“What the fuck has happened to Justin Timberlake?” is what you were probably wondering after first experiencing the video for his incredible new song ‘Supplies’. That is because you’re a mindless sheep, a suitable idiot that the system can use and abuse. The enlightened among us, however, realise that JT is no longer a simple pop star, but fucking woke. Continue reading “Justin Timberlake’s New Video Is So Woke You Can’t Handle It”
Most artists can’t – or won’t – ever fully unearth their deepest insecurities for their music. SZA does it on her debut. Continue reading “Album of the Year 2017: SZA – Ctrl”
As someone who has never been in a long-term relationship, Aromanticism gets under my skin in a way not a lot of albums do. Amid the tired chart hits about new love and true love, to have a voice, if not outright rejecting, at least affirming distance from the zeitgeist is refreshing. Our society is obsessed with partnership – if you’re not in a relationship there must be something wrong with you, right? Aromanticism isn’t an admonishment of this reality; rather, it’s the acceptance that these feelings of detachment might not ever go away, that maybe you’re supposed to be alone. Continue reading “Moses Sumney – Aromanticism”
And we’re back. No theme this time, just some songs we’ve dug over the past month or so – from the tongue-in-cheek pop of Soft Hair to the electric melancholia of The Radio Dept to the understated groove of Homeshake’s breezy new single. Enjoy.
Listen on Apple Music here, or on Spotify below.
Now I hate to use the term fuzz; fuzz being something of a boringly inevitable word used to describe music such as this; Continue reading “Track Of The Week: Franky Flowers – ‘Fell In Love’”
“I’m weary of the ways of the world”, Solange declares early on in her third album, and she has good reason to be. Across A Seat at the Table’s 52 minutes, she confronts prejudice and violence, death and grief, anxiety and doubt. Her first project since 2012 new wave-inspired EP True – lush but narratively hollow – A Seat at the Table is a decidedly more ambitious, and personal, affair.
Restrained in delivery, but oftentimes scathing in its culture critique, the record places Solange at odds with the world around her – and the many injustices she sees within it, namely racism. But she doesn’t lose her cool. Contrasting the confrontational stance her sister often took on Lemonade, it would be easy to mistake A Seat at the Table as almost resigned at times. Her vocals may be light as a feather, the production airy and uncluttered, but the exasperation – and rage – is still just as palpable. “I got a lot to be mad about” she proclaims on Lil Wayne-featuring ‘Mad’ – one of the New Orleans rapper’s most affecting verses in recent memory, where he poignantly croons about attempting suicide over an emotive piano – one that courses through much of the record. Likewise, Sampha follows up his successful collaborations with Kanye West and Frank Ocean earlier this year with ‘Don’t Touch My Hair‘, joining Solange as she laments those who attempt to convince her to compromise her principles in order to feel accepted, and rejects the pressure to be submissive to such behaviour.
At 21 tracks – many of them interludes – it’s not a brisk listen. But even as Solange winds down with reflective Kelela duet ‘Scales’, you can feel her frustration that she still hasn’t had time to say all she has to say. Interludes of Solange’s parents and friends venting their frustration at the racism they experienced growing up – and still do – are scattered throughout the album, and underscore her own indignation. Above all that though, it’s a self-possessed effort. Amidst prejudice and violence, A Seat at the Table is the sound of a woman finding her voice and asserting her independence.
Step away from your chai tea and roll up your yoga mat. If what you have been searching for is spiritual enlightenment then you have been looking in the wrong places. This remix of ‘Life’s Dancers’ by The Invisible was only released three weeks ago and yet has tragically been overlooked as a hot tip on achieving spiritual bliss.
The London-based band and Manchester producer Floating Points, aka Sam Shepherd, have collaborated before with the dreamy, poignant track ‘Wings’, released in 2012. But the intro of this subsequent collaboration captures and quickly discards the melancholy that was so pervasive in ‘Wings’: instead, the aptly-named track takes the listener on a journey which can only be described as spiritual. A subtle feeling of elation washes over the listener as the dreamy vocals and understated drums breathe life into the song: the simplicity of the combination dwarfing the original version of the track. This blissful state of contentment is interrupted, though not unwelcomingly, by a funkier dimension added by the bass. This jazzy snippet playfully teases you before surrendering to cascading string harmonies which leave you with a wistful feeling; the exultation experienced seems to be slipping from your grasp. Despite softening on the outro the ending still feels abrupt, rudely ending the trance-like state undoubtedly achieved, like a bucket of water to the face. Yet, such a heavenly song requires a quick descent back to reality, otherwise, a real risk exists that the listener might not make it back to the world.
But I can think of worse ways to go.
Listen to Life’s Dancers (Floating Points Remix) below.
Joyce Manor are three albums deep into a budding career in whatever we’re calling their cross pollination of pop-punk, emo, and indie rock, yet have released about an hour of music total. They’re the kind of band that make albums sonically similar to one another, yet have small intricacies that allow fans well-versed in their music to discern the sound of one project to another. The trend seems set to continue, as their latest single ‘Last You Heard Of Me’ is perhaps one of their most distinguishable songs yet. Foremost, it’s over 3 minutes long, making it the longest song in Joyce Manor’s discography. The guitar is noticeably thinner, leaving the driving rhythm of the song in the forefront. Lyrically, frontman Barry Johnson has always been gifted at writing specific lyrics about relatively vague topics. While this is still present, the comparatively slow pace of ‘Last You Heard of Me’ means there’s less space to work with, and the result is a less dense song lyrically than we’re used to from Johnson. Structurally, the track has a strong Weezer influence, not unlike many of Joyce Manor’s musical peers.
Listen to ‘Last You Heard Of Me’ below.
Cody is out October 7th via Epitaph
I don’t think The Weeknd has wasted his potential since becoming an unlikely star, but he’s certainly lost some of his edge. Abel Tesfaye used to be a mysterious force in the R&B scene, and the hype that he accumulated across the release of his first three mixtapes was in no small part due to the almost-mythical nature of the man himself. Of course, the music also helped. Beach House-sampling ‘The Party & The After Party’ proves Tesfaye knows how to set a scene. Airy, atmospheric and sensual as hell – obviously – the track is intimate and just the right side of erotic.
Listen to ‘The Party & The After Party’ below.
Blonde ends at the beginning. The latter half of closer ‘Futura Free’ is devoted to a chopped-up interview of Ocean’s little brother and his friends when they were 11 years old, where the interviewer asks deceptively easy questions like, “What was your first memory?,” and, “How long is a lightyear?”. We don’t get to hear their answers (although a full transcript is apparently printed in the accompanying magazine, Boys Don’t Cry) except for distorted mumbles and half-phrases, lending the outro an effusive air. In fact many of the tracks, without percussive beats for an anchor, possess qualities of ambient music. It’s up to Frank’s vocal performances and naked songwriting to drag these songs back down to earth.
Frank Ocean’s other new album, Endless, also ends at the beginning – as the title suggests. Cut down from 140 hours of raw footage, the 45 minute finished product is a visual album consisting of multiple takes of Ocean building a staircase combined together to look like enslaved clones. It doesn’t capture your attention, it doesn’t even try to; while watching, your mind might drift off to consider the theme he is trying to convey. Is the takeaway that Ocean, a gay man, is participating in the very machismo, hands-on field that is woodworking? Is staircase-constructing, like he suggests about his car obsession in his Tumblr liner notes, a “subconscious straight boy fantasy”? Perhaps the whole exercise was a lesson on the virtue of patience: instead of releasing an album, like the whole internet was clamouring for him to do, he was slowly building a set of stairs to nowhere. And then finally, after the so-called “endless” four year wait, he releases an album called Endless. How long is a lightyear? Twitter commentators might say it is the length of time it takes Frank to drop an album. For his part, Ocean remarks cheekily on ‘Skyline To’ that “that’s a pretty fucking fast year flew by…”
It’s appropriate that both these albums have a circular quality. The idea of distorting and trying to master time is a major theme on Blonde. On multiple occasions, Ocean begs for immortality, and at one point cries, “I wanna see nirvana but don’t wanna die.” The contradiction is pretty apt for an artist who is simultaneously in and out of the public eye. Frank Ocean doesn’t indulge his fans with constant Twitter and Instagram affirmation, and his private life is so unknown that until he mentioned the fact on his Tumblr, we didn’t know that he had moved to London. His enigmatic persona exists on the opposite end of the spectrum from an artist like Kanye West, whose constant media presence can detract from his actual music. On the other hand, his artistic work has been under constant scrutiny for the past four years. No other mainstream pop musician has had so much pressure upon a sophomore album release after such a short period of time (From ‘Futura Free’: “They wanna murder a nigga, murder me like Selena”). The Avalanches, up until only a few months ago, had not released an album in four times as many years. But in Frank’s universe, where he lives “so the last night feels like a past life,” the time between his debut, channel ORANGE, and now probably feels like an instant.
Blonde is a record that believes firmly in the healing nature of time. While usually soul-baringly empathetic in his songwriting, Ocean now assures his lover on ‘Ivy’ that, “I broke your heart last week, you’ll probably feel better by the weekend.” In regards to his jet-setting, partying lifestyle, he numbly concludes that “every night fucks every day up, every day patches the night up.” The album is a journey through time, a summary of Ocean’s maturation over the past four years. Through Frank’s eyes, we observe the transformative power of the continuum that destroys, creates, and, yes, heals as it cycles back upon itself.
The credits list for Blonde also seems to defy time. There are familiar names and expected collaborators, but also gracing the roll call are groups that have long ago broken up (Gang of Four, The Beatles) or even artists who have passed (David Bowie, Elliott Smith). Whether or not each certain artist was a bona fide contributor or simply a sample or inspiration is unmarked – which song each artist worked on is also not mentioned. This leads to a more engaging listening experience, as featured artists are also not credited in the tracklist; to find out who worked on which song, the listener has to, well, listen. Eventually, tiny details will emerge from the heft of the record. Beyoncé was applied like a paintbrush to the closing moments of ‘Pink + White’, Kendrick Lamar’s soulful crooning is a charcoal haze at the end of ‘Skyline To’. Most surprisingly though, experimental Swedish rapper Yung Lean has an uncharacteristically touching singing part in ‘Self Control’, stealing the scene with a warm, textured performance. And some collaborations are still being uncovered; until Apple Music confirmed it last night, there was only speculation to go on that James Blake and Bon Iver were involved in wistful cut ‘White Ferrari’. The most obvious feature is the return of channel ORANGE collaborator André 3000 on ‘Solo (Reprise)’. Using a new-school rapid fire flow à la Young Thug or Lil Yachty, 3 Stacks covers everything from hedonism, police brutality, fashion, gender roles, and disappointment with ghostwriting in just one minute and twenty seconds. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Blonde collaborator Sebastian said that speaking in depth about his role in the album was against its “general concept… [Frank Ocean] was the architect and everybody was working with him to make it happen. The concept was more about focusing into the result, not about who did what. It’s personal, but I felt that everybody was here for the project, for the music, the energy, not especially for themselves.”
The enigmatic credit list and focus on deep listening ties into themes of information overload due to the internet era that Frank stresses throughout Blonde – and even more so in Endless. French DJ Sebastian tells a provoking story of love during the eve of Facebook in late-album skit ‘Facebook Story’, about how a relationship of his ended after refusing to “friend” a girlfriend on the social media site. “I’m right in front of you” he exasperates, “… It’s nothing. A virtual thing.” Ocean himself reflects on his confoundment with modern times on slow-burning ‘Seigfried’: “I can’t relate to my peers. I’d rather live outside, I’d rather chip my pride than lose my mind out here.”
Ocean’s disillusionment stretches into drug culture, which he seems to simultaneously reject and feed into. Cocaine is referenced on nearly every track as simply “white,” particularly cleverly in ‘Nikes’: “You must be on that white like Othello,” alluding to Shakespeare’s titular tragic hero who is a black man in love with a white woman. Interlude ‘Be Yourself’, which might have been comic fodder in the hands of a lesser artist, is composed entirely of a recorded voicemail from someone’s mother warning against usage of “drugs, marijuana, and alcohol.” Frank treats the recording with reverence and uses it to balance the ecstatic spree that takes place at the beginning of ‘Solo’, which is without a doubt one of the finest songs of Ocean’s career. The scene changes from a sweaty, acid-addled dance-off to a lonely night in Colorado, where Frank remembers, “I brought trees to blow through, but it’s just me and no you, stayed up ’til my phone died, smoking big, rolling solo…” before veering off into a tearful rendition of the chorus. His humane and realistic approach to drug usage (in the same song, he describes weed as “a cheap vacation”) is a welcome departure from the ecstasy-fueled EDM pop scene that has skyrocketed into the charts in recent years. Frank Ocean is self aware in his self medication, and the words of a mother – “Be yourself and know that that’s good enough. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to be like someone else, don’t try to act like someone else, be yourself. Be secure with yourself” – haunt the rest of the album.
Her message also resonates with Frank’s relatively recent coming out. Shortly after the release of ‘Bad Religion’ on his last record, Frank turned to Tumblr to write a moving note on the first man he ever fell in love with. It was a massively important moment in modern music: Frank Ocean is one of the first openly gay R&B stars to ever exist. Blonde, however, is remarkably post-queer. Ocean has made his views on gay pride public before this, but here, he lets the music speak for itself. There are no overt pride references; instead, Ocean lets his beautiful songwriting represent the love he feels for previous boyfriends. A gay bar is mentioned once, but a casual listener not familiar with Frank’s sexuality might pass through this record thinking it is a “traditional” (that is to say, “straight”) pop album. The most revolutionary thing about Blonde is that is just is. There are no politics, but identity tension is present nonetheless. On the more sexually visceral Endless, Frank refuses to cower away from or be coy with his homosexuality: “Suck a dick long as a swan neck, put some real swans in the pond” is perhaps the boldest rap flex of 2016. In the note that accompanies the album, Frank writes, “Raf Simons once told me it was cliché, my whole car obsession. Maybe it links to a deep subconscious straight boy fantasy. Consciously though, I don’t want straight—a little bent is good.” Blonde is a total rejection of the heteronormative pop scene. Frank Ocean entered the music machine with a crowbar to make this record, and bend he did.
Ocean’s “straight boy fantasy” of cars is a constant presence in the album. As a gearhead, Frank Ocean experiences life first and foremost through the lens of what car he drives, whether it be his family’s Acura or his brand new white Ferrari. He worships the romantic ideal of the automobile, how it is a symbol of freedom and endless possibility. And for the journey that this album traverses, you’d need a car. Blonde will be remembered for its sexual freedom, its powerful imagery, and its groundbreaking artfulness, but it should really be remembered by this image that Ocean references in the liner notes for the album: “A seatbelt reached across her torso, riding up her neck and a mop of blonde hair stayed swept, for the moment, behind her ears. Her eyes seemed clear and calm but not blank, the road behind her seemed the same.” He’s describing to us a picture of a little girl, which instead of allowing us to see he offers for us to feel.
On previous projects, Frank Ocean’s lyrics have usually inhabited characters, or else were coloured in beautiful metaphor. Blonde is his most personal album yet, with almost every track possessing autobiographical qualities; the album can be described most accurately as a collection of memories rather than songs. Highlight ‘Nights’ breaks down halfway through, turning into possibly the most delectable rap verse Ocean has ever delivered. His delivery is shy and unassuming, but his lyrics are evocative and full of life. Frank details his time in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina; his disillusionment with organised religion as a child, his love of music that was cultivated through the family car’s CD changer, and, after the storm, moving to Texas to live with a lover. We learn that their relationship is one-sided: Ocean is using him or her as a place to crash while he works night shifts to fund his escape to, we assume, Los Angeles, where he would start his music career. He covers all this ground in a short space but the moment stays suspended even as the track breaks down into a bridge and outro. Frank’s power with a pen is unmatched in modern music, and his unique gift of breathing vibrant life into verses and turns of phrase is unparalleled by even the greats.
This is just one example of his astonishing ability, you could pick any song off the album to cherish as a personal favourite moment. On ‘Ivy’, his teenage self has his first foray into love in the safety of his rental car: “We didn’t give a fuck back then. I ain’t a kid no more, we’ll never be those kids again.” A deer running across the road leads to steamy moonlit sex after Ocean turns off his car’s headlights to avoid scaring the animal (‘Skyline To’). ‘Good Guy’ is a mini-song/interlude that details his first encounters with an uninterested blind date where Frank remarks, “You text nothing like you look. Here’s to the gay bar you took me to. Here’s when I realised you talk so much more than I do.” There’s the religious imagery of ‘Solo’, and the cryptic lyrics of ‘Nikes’ and ‘Close To’. Each of these songs has an element of magic that is singular to a Frank Ocean record, and they all tie together beautifully. Listening to the record as a whole, little snippets separate and stick to you on each go-through, eventually weighing down on your body in a way that is most definitely physical, an experience that is simply intoxicating. The songcraft transcends its place in Frank’s vocals and enters your ecosystem, interjecting itself into your life in a manner as real as a visitor in the home. Ignore the words, and you might become sick from the baggage that this album will leave you with. Blonde requires iterative listens, regurgitation, and careful contemplation. It is a project that immediately elevates itself past mere sonic exercises and cultural phenomena, becoming almost sentient – ignore it at your own risk.