Monthly Archives: August 2017

Sound ‘Round: Vince Staples / Tyler, the Creator

Wherein Odd Future alumni (mostly) grow up

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)

Like the rest of his Odd Future classmates, Vince Staples has a mean cynical streak. But what distinguishes this Long Beach native from his contemporaries is an ability to articulate his ennui in a way that strives for more than the garish hooliganism idolized by post-modern knuckleheads. He can’t get no satisfaction, but he doesn’t waste time complaining about it. Besides, Staples is sharp enough to understand comfort isn’t found in the nostalgia of home or the excesses of fame. Both cause their fair share of headaches. But happiness isn’t the end game on this sophomore effort, which softens his penchant for harsh beats and cozies to the impersonal touch of electronica. The goal here is primal and a central tenant of the pop mystique: Short-handed youth doing the best it can with the tools at its disposal. The music is comparatively sparse, less formal and more heady —the better to make room for Staples to crisply enunciate his list of grievances. Dislikes include greed, materialism, white privilege and Trump. All is not dour, however. He likes Amy Winehouse documentaries, Kilo Kish playing devil’s advocate and fast cars. The best songs concern his angst, a factor indicative of his youth. Here’s hoping age allows him to someday enjoy life’s finer moments in equal measure. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “BagBak” / “Yeah Right” / “Big Fish”

Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy (Columbia)

Every odd-numbered year since 2011, Odd Future’s amoral compass has croaked up an album and reminded me why I never tolerated his despicable rhymes in the first place. Homophobia was his muse, violent chauvinism his favorite pastime — all done in the name of a modernity too cruel to live in. I wrote off this record, his fourth, without hesitation. That was before news broke of Tyler’s supposed coming out on “Garden Shed,” a surprisingly tender and cryptic song about remaining in the closet. He’s since been noncommittal about his sexuality, as is his right, but he wouldn’t be rap’s first walking contradiction. Self-hatred is a prerequisite in the music biz, even a good way to boost sales.  Just as refreshing as his apparent bi-curiousness is a warm, approachable musical palette that signifies his newly discovered humanism. Songs that once sounded like buzz saws in a pressure cooker now relish the joys of funk and neo-soul. Tyler even dares to share the love. He supports Black Lives Matter and gets down right inspirational. “Tell these black kids they can be who they are,” he says. His end game is also applied in good faith. “Good health, success, time on earth worthwhile.” Celebratory goals, every one. He may just be a real boy, after all. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Garden Shed” / “November” / “See You Again”

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Sound ‘Round: Starlio & Don Trip / Jay-Z

Professors of blackonomics impart their knowledge

Starlito & Don Trip – Step Brothers Three (Grind Hard LLC)

Should Music City’s unsuspecting rap scene ever cough up another act to the national stage, please let it be this pair of intelligent hustlers who are intelligent precisely because they hustle. Starlito is the gruff one with a slow, exaggerated drawl. Almost like a cartoon character. Don Trip is what Lil Wayne would have sounded like if he ever finished puberty. Definitely a cartoon character. Both are dead funny, dead serious and practitioners of the mantra that doubles as this mixtape’s label — Grind Hard. Like the Will Ferrell comedy of the same name, these guys are addicted to the one-liner. But, unlike the Will Ferrell comedy, the jokes stick. I’m fond of “Boomshakalaka” and Starlito’s play on Pistol Pete and Peja Stojakovic to brag about his .30 caliber. Trip’s brags are closer to home. “I count my money to my babies while I rock them to sleep.” They like to laugh as much as they like to keep it real, which is why things get serious on “Good Cop Bad Cop,” in which the son of a black officer is murdered by a trigger-happy white cop. “It’s an everyday conflict / Losing your sanity,” they declare. Which is why it’s so important to remember to laugh. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Boomshakalaka” / “Good Cop Bad Cop” / “Fortune”

Jay-Z – 4:44 (Roc Nation)

Sean Carter’s most personal album isn’t his best. It’s not even second or third. But striving for greatness ain’t one of his 99 problems. What keeps hip-hop’s richest O.G. up at night is a wounded marriage caused by a reckless ego. But Beyoncé already documented that on Lemonade. So don’t think of this as a response record because there is nothing to respond to. Right, men are scumbags. Right, men breathe. So don’t miss his true aim of preaching economic self-reliance to a black clientele perpetually victimized by crony capitalism. “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit.” True, but Jay will have to use more practical anecdotes than investing $1 million in real estate and fine art as examples of every-man accomplishments. That cash is put to better use on songs that sample Stevie Wonder, Hannah Williams and features a Frank Ocean cameo. With no use for bangers, his rhymes are conversational and the beats are cool and fluid. He still means business though, specifically family business. Hence the finale that doubles as a living will for his kids. “Generational wealth, that’s the key.” It’s an ostentatious statement, sure, but also a reflection of these terrible times when greed is required to earn a seat at the table. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Smile” / “The Story of O.J.” / “Legacy”

Sound ‘Round: Amber Coffman / Waxahatchee

Women staking their claim with a burgeoning sound

Amber Coffman – City of No Reply (Columbia)

A brief backstory concerning the lives of the semi-rich and semi-famous. Coffman first split with boyfriend/boss/Dirty Projectors impresario Dave Longstreth in 2012 only to reunite with him as a lover and collaborator two years later. Things irreparably soured in 2016 while Longstreth helped prep this solo debut as a producer. He soon kicked Coffman out of his band and wrote a typically dense breakup album more concerned with being smart than cathartic. Coffman says good riddance. Though her former beau gets a co-writing credit on every track, the rewards here are all hers, as is the musical vision. With no desire for sour grapes or the need to self-aggrandize, her supple soprano disavows the ornate art-pop coveted by intellectuals like her ex and articulates in plain English and plainer arrangements regarding both sides of the romantic coin. Just as refreshing as her new-found knack for simplicity is her ability to let the music say more with less. The surprises come in small packages: be it sly use of auto-tune on the opener, the warm breath of a horn section near the finale, or synths that warble and burp but don’t diminish her performance. She states her goal from the get-go. “All I want is to feel strong,” she sings. The rest is more of the same. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “All To Myself” / “Do You Believe” / “City of No Reply”

Waxahatchee – Out of the Storm (Merge)

Humanity cried out for another Katie Crutchfield solo record like it cried out for the damn movie about emojis. Much of her music this decade is comprised of drab austerity and reverb-drenched confessionals concerning bad romance. The songs are often as monotone as her target market — mainly white college kids and young adults who feign sadness and self-pity for the retweets. But after three albums and five years of rinsing, reusing and recycling old tropes comes 10 songs that recall days spent alongside twin sister Alison in femme-punk outfit, P.S. Eliot. Tired of dull bedroom pop and half-assed shoegazing, the opening 16 seconds features a spirited blast of distortion and robust drumming that’s controlled and tempered but more driving and instantaneous than anything the Japandroids cobbled together this year. The musical achievements trickle into other elements, too. Though her subject matter is familiar, Crutchfield’s songwriting is more assured, less vague and not afraid to be hopeful. “When I fall I will not be ashamed at all,” precedes “You’ll have your truth, I’ll have mine,” precedes “I tell the truth / I feel amazing today.” A bolstered sound and a clearer perspective all in just over 30 minutes. Here’s hoping the good vibes last. We deserve it, and she does too. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Silver” / “Brass Beam” / “Never Been Wrong”