What I’ve been listening to the past couple of weeks:
Moses Sumney, græ: Part 1
I like it, it sounds good, but I don’t know enough about R&B to listen critically. It sounds warm and contemporary, with little flourishes here and there that sound experimental without being uninviting, creating a meandering effect. It’s mainly down tempo. Lots of swelling strings. Heavy electronic/ambient influence, almost industrial at times. I had this on in the background while working, but thematically it seems like gender and identity are major topics. You get the impression of someone actively exploring, pushing musical boundaries, and it often works.
Rating: A solid 8.5/10.
Polo G, The Goat
I understand why people like this, and I feel like I can appreciate it, but I’m not immediately drawn to it. Some thoughts I had on the first listen: I like the interplay between the guitar and the piano on ‘Don’t Believe the Hype.’ And bold move naming your opening song after a classic Public Enemy track. After a few tracks, I’m wondering about the tonal monotony of contemporary music. It’s all minor keys, melancholy lyrics, and synth-heavy instrumentation replacing sample-based production. A narrowing of the sonic palette. It’s not just a trap music thing but something happening in pop music generally. Is there a Peja Stojakovic reference in there? It’s definitely listenable. Lots of introspection, paranoia, grappling with the effects of drugs. Great line about you’d think it’s basketball season there’s so many court dates. Can’t help but love ‘Wishing for a Hero’, referencing Tupac. Would listen to one or two songs again, but not the whole thing start to finish.
Rating: I understand the love this is getting, and there are some highlights. I’m giving it a 7.5/10.
El Michels Affair, Adult Themes
I feel like I’m listening to the world’s funkiest symphony. But a lot of songs are missing that sweet El Michels groove. I didn’t start nodding my head until Spotify had automatically started Sounding out the City. I know, it’s lame to criticize a band for trying new things.
Rating: A low 7-ish/10. I like it enough to give it multiple listens and maybe it’ll grow on me.
Bishop Nehru, Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts
My first impression was super positive. I thought Pitchfork was crazy for giving it a 4.4. I loved the versatility. Nehru’s willingness to experiment and take risks across the full hip-hop palette made for a compelling listen. He’s dabbling in everything, which I respect. Then on the second listen I started to sympathize with Pitchfork, like, okay, there are definitely some weak rhymes, even a few cringe-worthy ones. But the beats are mostly fire. “Little Suzy (Be Okay)”: those drums slap, with the piano loop. “All of My Years” sounds like a really good J. Cole beat. But yeah, fair enough, it’s not quite successful and at times it feels forced, like he’s trying to show versatility at the expense of quality. Almost the opposite of Polo G, who basically sticks to one formula and executes it successfully. I still think it’s better than a 4.4, because there are lots of gems and high points. He’s a work in progress, and I am optimistic that he’s going to end up somewhere great.
Rating: I ended up at around a 6.5/10, higher than Pitchfork’s rating but I get where they’re coming from.
Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes, What Kinda Music
So dope. I love this album. It’s one of my favourites of the year. It was released on Blue Note and Pitchfork reviewed it in their ‘Jazz’ category, but I think calling it a jazz record is too restrictive. Or it speaks to the current breadth of jazz as a genre. Either way I love the funky drum breaks, the latent lo-fi aesthetic, the reverb, and Tom Misch’s singing, which flutters all over the place, a smooth and effervescent counterbalance to the roiling drums and experimental sounds that occupy the rest of the soundscape. There are definitely jazz elements at play, and expect lots of jazziness (instrumental solos, for example) but the album is steeped in hip hop. There’s a fire Freddie Gibbs verse on ‘Nightrider’, and generally the production is heavily influenced by Dilla jazz. It’s a beautiful illustration of the evolution of music: jazz and funk drummers provided the basis for hip hop, and hip hop producers built on that and chopped and rearranged their way to something new, which has then been reabsorbed by jazz.
Rating: I’m a big fan of this record, and I feel like it’s a high 8 slash low 9/10.