Words About Music
It’s been difficult for me to write thorough, well-thought-out reviews at the pace I would prefer. As I’m an adult with responsibilities, this has left me publishing mostly reviews of albums to which I’ve felt positively, all of which are like 3 months old at this point.
To make up for this, I’m going to try and push out my thoughts on a large number of surplus albums which I don’t feel warrant their own full, complete reviews. This is so I can formulate final opinions on these releases and let my loyal readership know what I think about albums that I have not yet gotten the chance to review. Bigger albums will definitely be getting their own full-length reviews, but those will come at the usual speed.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts on a nice, big handful of albums that rounded out the beginning of the summer season.
Rozwell Kid “Precious Art”
I’ve been conscious of this West Virginia-based punk rock band for a couple years now, but I finally gave Rozwell Kid a proper listen back in 2016 when I saw them open up for Canadian pop punk wizards PUP live in concert. I like the scuzzy, fuzzy tone the band takes to their instrumental sound as well as the palpable humor in vocalist Jordan Hudkins’ self-deprecating lyrics.
The Weezer worship is strong on this album, especially with opening cut “Wendy’s Trash Can” (does that alone indicate what sort of album this is?). “Precious Art” is an album with a lot of heart and humor inside it, but what I’m judging here is the band’s sound, which I dig but don’t love. If anything, I just wish there was a stronger set of vocals emoting the lyrics here. I’m also a bit disappointed in the hooks, which aren’t as great as I was expecting knowing this band’s back catalogue.
I do like that the band displays some versatility on this record, though, especially with melodic slow-burners like “MadTV” and “Futon,” which end up being some of the best on the album. The band also keeps it tight with the absurd humor and emphasis on referentiality, whether the topic at hand is picking one’s nose and getting a booger on their phone screen or yearning to watch the cult-classic “UHF” with a romantic partner. There’s even a bit of blink 182-esque humor with the extra-short tracks like “South By” (only lyric: “Where will I park the van?”) and “Wish Man.”
“Precious Art” isn’t a bad album, it just isn’t very memorable. Rozwell Kid is a band with a set of formulas that have made them predictable at this point. With that said, I still find a lot to enjoy in the group’s lyrical content, and I certainly hope to hear something bigger and better from the group in the future. Maybe I’ll always feel lukewarm about Rozwell Kid as I feel they’re better on paper than in practice, but this album has a handful of pretty great songs that I’ll definitely remember, even if this album as a whole doesn’t manage to make a huge impression on me.
SCORE — 6.25 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Wendy’s Trash Can, Futon, MadTV, UHF on DVD, Booger, Michael Keaton
DJ Khaled “Grateful”
Khaled, shout-out to you for exhibiting such a positive parental relationship with your young son, Asahd. But, dude… 23 fucking songs? 87 fucking minutes?
Look, I didn’t even hate “Major Key,” but a year later you put this bullshit out? I couldn’t even finish it. As usual, the singles are fantastic, but the vast majority of this album is uncharted territory. I think I’ll stay away from this one for the rest of the year. See you next time, Asahd.
SCORE — 2.00 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — I’m the One (feat. Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Quavo, and Lil Wayne), Wild Thoughts (feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller)
Washed Out “Mister Mellow”
Mr. Chillwave himself, Georgia native Ernest Greene, is back with his third album, first in four years, and first for underground hip-hop label Stones Throw Records. Most people remember his first two albums, “Within and Without” and “Paracosm,” as busy, melodic, textured pop albums with some memorable, genre-defining tracks among them. “Mister Mellow,” the latest from Washed Out, is quite a different vibe, though, with its elements of psychedelic and sample-based production.
The first thing I notice about this album is how short it is, with its 12 tracks only reaching a measly 30 minutes in length. When all is said and done, there are really only 7 full songs on here, making “Mister Mellow” feel more like a condensed mixtape than an actual album. Once it properly starts, though, the switch to Stones Throw makes a lot of sense, especially with the trippy production on “Burn Out Blues,” the first proper song on the album. There’s little in the way of lyrical content, though, as the lyrics throughout this album sound like the basic ramblings of a newfound stoner with a lot on his mind, bro.
This album is hazy, with the production and lyrics coalescing into this dreamlike state, except the dream is waking life. Greene sings about depression a lot on here, especially on “Floating By.” There’s a lot of talk of clearing his head, trying to figure stuff out. It’s a fluid album, wondering about itself and second-guessing itself constantly despite its ostensibly clear vision. It’s a bit of a difficult album to pay attention to, though, which has always been a problem with Washed Out’s spacey, buzzy, busy music. It reminds me equally of The Avalanches, Tobacco, Caribou, and Beck, with its thick musical soundscape soundtracking the thoughts of a dude who’s trying to calm himself in the midst of a bad acid trip.
“Mister Mellow” is definitely a well-crafted experience as Washed Out intended. However, it’s a listening experience that’s easily blocked out and missed due to the lack of hooks or unique, demanding musical moments. It’s a thematically tight half hour of mood music that is meant to bring you to a state of calm in the midst of this anxiety-inducing nightmare of a world in which we live. This is evident by the lyrics and samples used throughout the album, leaving very little in the way of actual songwriting. It’s as much a dense, ambitious undertaking as it is an underwhelming, forgettable album. It’s cool and inoffensive, but it’s not quite a worthy follow-up to Washed Out’s previous material, especially considering its abbreviated length, clear preference for sound over substance, and half-baked yet consistent concept.
SCORE — 5.50 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Burn Out Blues, Hard to Say Goodbye, Get Lost, Million Miles Away
James Elkington “Wintres Woma”
This debut from English guitarist James Elkington is a folksy, sprawling album that puts specific emphasis on Elkington’s skills as an acoustic axeman. No longer playing guitar in someone else’s band or project, Elkington cements himself as an artist not to be fucked with. “Wintres Woma” is the debut album of this artist, who is based out of Chicago and can count Steve Gunn and Jeff Tweedy as two big co-signers. It’s an unassuming album and it may not be the most ambitious or memorable in terms of acoustic folk music, but it’s got a dearth of instrumentation and sly, careful lyrics which make it well worth numerous listens. It’s nice for a plaintive, rainy Sunday morning, and I think Elkington misjudged his late June release of this album. Don’t miss out on this if you’re a fan of acoustic folk music, especially if you like clever, complex fingerpicking with added banjo and violin embellishments.
SCORE — 7.25 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Make It Up, Grief is Not Coming, When I Am Slow, The Hermit Census, Greatness Yet To Come, My Trade in Sun Tears, Any Afternoon
Ski Mask the Slump God “You Will Regret”
This breakthrough project from Florida rapper Ski Mask the Slump God was far more enjoyable than I was expecting from an affiliate of noted scumbag asshole XXXTentacion. And yet, there is actually a handful of dope songs on this short mixtape, and I was pretty floored by Ski Mask’s flow, which is far more on-point, on-beat, and menacing than virtually anyone on the 2017 XXL Freshman list. After hearing this project, I’m surprised Ski Mask didn’t end up on that list himself, especially considering he exhibits quite a bit of talent here.
It’s not a perfect or even that great of a mixtape, but it did surpass my expectations. It also has me anticipating his next release, especially if he can come through with great, humorous tracks like “JustLikeMyPiss,” “Bird is the Word,” “BabyWipe,” and “EverTookATab?”. At 25 minutes, it’s a brief, speedy listen that ignites itself with punk energy, and if Ski Mask is able to translate that energy into a more fully fleshed out project with songs that all feel completely finished, I think he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the underground hip-hop scene.
SCORE — 6.75 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Rambo, JustLikeMyPiss, Bird is the Word, BabyWipe, Adventure Time, EverTookATab?
21 Savage “Issa Album”
I’ve always said that Atlanta rapper 21 Savage sounds like he’s being held at gunpoint in the booth. His monotonous, spacey flow is unexciting, and the brooding trap production doesn’t necessarily add much to the picture. I’m not generally opposed to rappers with a more low-key, undersold approach. Look at rappers like DOOM, Ka, and Roc Marciano, who are able to balance out their somewhat lifeless delivery with brilliant lyricism and experimental production. 21 Savage, however, is no master lyricist, nor is he much of a presence on the mic, nor do his projects typically come through with unusual production.
His previous project, 2016’s Metro Boomin collaborative mixtape “Savage Mode,” was certainly okay, but it didn’t do much for me. I figured I’d give the man one more chance to wow me before I completely wrote him off as an artist whose music I have zero interest in.
Enter “Issa Album,” named after a meme that was long dead by the time this album dropped in early July. At nearly an hour long, this was to be 21’s fullest mission statement to date. And, surprise-surprise, it’s even more boring and inconsequential than “Savage Mode,” which was half as long.
21 Savage doesn’t seem to have an artistic, ambitious bone in his body, happy to sloppily throw rhymes together just long enough to have a complete song. Throw in some of the laziest production I’ve heard yet from some huge names (Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, DJ Mustard, Wheezy) and you’ve got one of the year’s most boring hip-hop albums. Sure, there are highlights, but for the most part this album is one nocturnal, forgettable lowlight after another. No fucking thanks.
SCORE — 3.00 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Numb, Bad Business, Thug Life
Great Grandpa “Plastic Cough”
“Plastic Cough” is the full-length debut from Seattle local indie favorites Great Grandpa, whose name I’ve seen on posters for a handful of years but whose music I never actually checked out until this album dropped over the summer on Double Double Whammy Records. The band’s sound combines indie pop with some big, summery garage rock hooks. It sells itself as in the same vein as bands like the aforementioned Rozwell Kid as well as Charly Bliss, PUP, and Jeff Rosenstock.
With that said, I had some high hopes going into this thing which weren’t exactly met. It starts out nicely enough with the too-cool-for-school “Teen Challenge,” but things slow down into ’90s-two-hit-wonder forgettability with “Favorite Show.” I like the vocals on this thing, but the songs itself tend to take the form of ’90s rock throwback wallpaper rather than as unique, memorable songs, even if they’re fairly well-formed and well-written. The band has songwriting down to a science, but the overall sonic product doesn’t entirely resonate with me.
There are definitely some high points. I like the tightly-wound emo the band plays with on “Fade,” as well as that songs vivid lyrics and great hook. I also enjoy the lyrics on the song “NO,” even if it isn’t quite as intense and whacked out as I think it wants to be. I’ve also gotta give it to “Expert Eraser,” which is a major highlight for me on this record, with the unhinged vocal performance, chunky distorted guitar tone, and hook that demands to be heard. And the screams at the end of “Pardon My Speech” are choice.
Overall though, I don’t get much out of listening to this record. It’s not horrible, but it isn’t particularly memorable overall, and the slower songs don’t really justify themselves in the tracklisting, especially when the heavier, bigger songs are far more enjoyable. Great Grandpa has potential, but they’ll need to put more into their hooks and melodies and maybe experiment a bit. As is, they sound a lot like Speedy Ortiz, and I’d like to hear them do something a bit different, a bit heavier, a bit catchier. There’s humor, there’s lyrical capability, and there’s the ability to put together a multi-faceted song with great chord progressions and riffs. Great Grandpa just lacks that x-factor in its current form that has me going back for more.
SCORE — 6.00 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Teen Challenge, Fade, Expert Eraser, Pardon My Speech, 28 Js L8r
Toro y Moi “Boo Boo”
Lovable southerner Chaz Bear is, like the previously noted Washed Out, one of the forebears of the short-lived chillwave scene of the late 2000s and early 2010s. This began with 2010’s “Causers of This” and continued on 2011’s “Underneath the Pine.” He began making the transition to synth-pop and indie pop in 2013 with “Anything in Return” and then again in 2015 with “What For?”.
To be completely honest, I’ve never been a fan of Toro y Moi’s work, having been familiar with him pretty much since he initially blew up. His attempts to blend into post-chillwave sub-genres of contemporary indie pop music have not done much for me, both because I don’t find his production that interesting and I don’t really like his vocals. He does have personality, though, and I have enjoyed his guest appearances on recent projects by the likes of Travis Scott and The Avalanches.
“Boo Boo” is Chaz’s fifth album under this alias, and while it’s a pleasant experience with some cool synth-funk influence, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that his music is incapable of sticking with me in any meaningful way. There are some cool moments worth mentioning, though. I seem to enjoy the music a lot more when Chaz goes in a darker, more downtrodden direction. I like the somber, ambient nature of the tracks “Pavement” and “Don’t Try,” which I think reinforce each other very nicely in the tracklisting. I also enjoy some of the more introspective moments on the album, especially on songs like “No Show.”
But for the most part, I have little to say about this record. I mostly dig the instrumental aesthetic here, whether it’s in a dark, synth-pop realm or more of a soulful, funky arena. I just don’t really dig many of the vocal elements of this album, whether he plays it straight and sounds like some third-rate Abel Tesfaye or he indulges the more annoying aspects of autotuning. Overall, I can safely say I enjoy this as much as I usually enjoy Toro y Moi’s music. Perhaps it’s a grower, but I don’t see much about this album worth listening to enough times to allow it to grow on me. There aren’t many unique melodies or demanding, colorful songs. It’s a 50 minute slow burner that excites me about as much as Washed Out’s 30 minute short-film-as-EP-as-album earlier in this post.
SCORE — 5.25 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — No Show, Pavement, Don’t Try, Embarcadero
“Chronology” is the long-winded debut album from Jamaican reggae artist Chronixx. As a passive reggae fan, I’m always down to listen to reggae music I have not heard yet, so long as it’s been written and performed by someone with actual ties to the Caribbean islands. Chronixx’s new album definitely scratches that itch for me in many ways, with great songs like “Spanish Town Rockin'” and “Black is Beautiful.” This album is, from front to back, a pleasant, positive experience.
Perhaps the album’s most regrettable feature is its length. If you took this album’s best songs and put them on a shorter album, it could very well be one of the best of the year. But this thing has 15 tracks that last over an hour, with a bonus track just in case that wasn’t enough. I also feel fairly indifferent toward the songs that move away from organic instrumentation and focus more on poppy, electronic instrumentation.
“Chronology” starts out strong with the classic, feel-good reggae vibes of “Spanish Town Rockin’,” “Big Bad Sound,” and “Skankin’ Sweet.” I especially love the chemistry on “Big Bad Sound” between Chronixx and his father, Chronicle, who is also a reggae vocalist from Jamaica. As the album goes on, though, it starts to fall into the background, especially the final run of tracks which start to indicate cracks in the hull of Chronixx’s music.
I don’t think this album tries to be much more than a fun, summer-y, contemporary reggae album, and there’s a lot about it worth loving. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Chronixx’s music in the future, and I hope he can rein in on his talents a bit better on his next release by cutting out some of the fat.
SCORE — 7.00 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Spanish Town Rockin’, Big Bad Sound, Skankin’ Sweet, Ghetto Paradise, Smile Jamaica, Black is Beautiful, Legend
G-DRAGON “KWON JI YONG EP”
This latest EP from K-pop superstar G-DRAGON totally caught me off guard when I first came across it. While I’m not entirely clued in to the various strains of pop music that come out of both the Republic of Korea and Japan, I definitely have a silent respect for those artists and see no problem with a decent amount of the music they make. I’ve even come to enjoy albums from the likes of Kyarypamyupamyu and Babymetal.
“KWON JI YONG” is G-DRAGON’s latest release, and its five songs are actually fairly enjoyable. The first song, “INTRO (Middle Fingers-Up),” is a fun, booming track with a great hook. It’s carefree, it’s fun, it’s original, it’s everything I enjoy in theory about East Asian pop and hip-hop music.
Speaking of hip-hop, it’s clear that G-DRAGON is heavily influenced by it. The second song, “BULLSHIT,” features an interpolation of Snoop Dogg’s famous “Bow-wow-wow, yippee yo, yippee yay” refrain as well as a busy, well-composed pop-trap beat. I also love the sample of barking dogs on this track, even if it isn’t the most unpredictable track on this EP. The production on it is fuckin’ dope, especially toward the end when the beat switches, and G-DRAGON does his thing here by opting for a rap flow rather than his upbeat, personality-driven style of singing.
The next track, “SUPER STAR,” is fairly straightforward as well. Its overt pop reminds me a bit of PC Music, and it definitely comes through with some forward-thinking production. It’s not a horrible song, but I wouldn’t consider it to be a bright spot in the tracklisting.
Interestingly enough, one of the best songs on the EP is the piano ballad “Untitled, 2014.” I don’t understand Korean, clearly, but I do understand passion, and G-DRAGON comes through with passion to spare on this song. It almost sounds like it’d be at home in a musical or Disney film. It’s clear that he’s singing about something meaningful, and that meaningfulness pays off in the great, loving performance on this track.
It ends nicely enough, with a somewhat more somber and R&B-inflected track, “Divina Commedia,” which ties the whole project together, even if it’s not the most satisfying ending. Overall, though, I was fairly impressed with “KWON JI YONG.” It indicates quite a bit of musical versatility for the K-pop stalwart, and it has me delightfully curious about his next full-length project. This EP does have its flaws, especially considering its short run time, but I come away from it feeling more positive than negative.
SCORE — 6.75 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — INTRO (Middle Fingers-Up), BULLSHIT, Untitled 2014