Tricky – False Idols album review

Almost by happy mistake, English artist Tricky is pleasantly bearable as an international lyricist, and his musical direction seems to luckily work for him—what’s so boldly been the crux of his uniqueness as an artist is that he isn’t a virtuoso (he openly refuses to call his fans ‘fans’ as he says anyone can make the music he does) and he doesn’t subsist under the pretense that he is. His music just somehow falls into place even though it’s quite atypical. On False Idols, Tricky returns to the musical aesthetics of Maxinquaye, his debut album, and the decade that marked his coming of age. Even though it’s been almost 10 years, his latest project may serve as a follow up and continues to shine a light on his self-actualized experience.

False Idols feels like a thirst quencher from experimental music’s past. His existentialism draws heavily from the grainy sounds of 1997 Portishead (bet Tricky is tired of the uncanny comparison) and you can even find some elements of Jewel circa “Who Will Save Your Soul?” (this is especially transparent on “Nothing Matters”), all of which presents the air of darkness, contemplation, and trivialism through such instrumentation. False Idols sticks firmly within the frame of trip-hop, even when we thought no one was making it anymore.

Any trace of a concept is masked by Tricky’s ambiguity. With this album, he is about questioning the figments of his reality, though at times his queries (at least the ones we can determine) do come off as a bit banal for someone who is so deeply examining the verity of his reality (On “Somebody’s Sins” the lyrics drag “Jesus died for someone’s sins but not mine.” Hasn’t this topic been covered a million times already?). Tricky blends melancholy tracks with upbeat ones, without removing the melancholy, and never taking you out of pensiveness. The tick-tocks and hollow pizzicato on the harp strings are consistent throughout the album, although each song plays differently. “My Funny Valentine” is creepy and uses a creepy sample. “If Only I Knew” sounds like a soft Sade demo laced with longing and despair. It’s brilliant. “Is That Your Life” is a little less heavy with subtle elements of beat box. And although all 16 tracks are variable, Tricky does a good job of never catching you off guard.

The ironic thing about this album is that though it’s supposed to serve as a representation of Tricky finding himself, at times you can get a sense that he still may not quite have figured out who he is. He hides behind well-written lyrics that don’t pose any real questions. But the beauty of False Idols is that it’s refreshing and of the past. The musicality still works. Even though the genre has already come and gone.

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories album review

Daft Punk’s latest, Random Access Memories is a far cry from the fist pumping electronic repertoire that revolutionized dance music in the 90s. And if you’re trying to relive the days of pay per call music video stations through nostalgic songs like “Around The World,” you’ll be surprised to know you won’t find that here. In fact, one of the main underlying elements of this album is surprise. The French duo has graduated to introspection and wows us by ditching the predictable and drawing from the musical inspirations that made them. The finished product is an ode to music—a complete embodiment of a simple deep-rooted passion.

Random Access Memories is a mash-up of genres past. It’s a touch of the oldies meets disco heaven meets progressive rock and Daft Punk pays homage with groovy instrumentation, smooth guitar riffs, synthesized keyboards and gentle percussion, never neglecting that touch of Zapp and Rogers, Donna Summer, or Phil Collins on any track. In fact, the best way Daft Punk pays tribute to their inspiration is through the instrumentation. Although some of songs on the albums are merely fillers, each track comes together to create a magnificent body of work, cohesive in concept and instrumentation, and consistent in conveying the concept of inspiration.

The album opens up with a very fitting track, “Give Life Back To Music.” It’s funky. “The Game of Love” is a slinky and hypnotic follow up and though like most of the tracks, it’s grossly repetitive, it’s quite possibly the best song on the first half of the album and will give anybody that feeling of love in summertime. “Giorgio by Moroder” is Daft Punk’s testament to their love for music. The 9:05 track features an inspiring monologue by Italian dance music pioneer Giorgio Moroder paired with funkadelic keys and guitar sequences. It’s touching. Daft Punk also teams up with Pharrell on a couple of the numbers, which is less impressionable, and though his features are forgettable, it’s nice to hear Daft Punk pair the present with their influences of the past.

The album really picks up past the 5th track, shifting from the elements of love and inspiration to the carefree and almost futuristic. The first few seconds of “Beyond” sounds like the beginning of an epic space cartoon saga, and the song that follows it is aptly called “Motherboard.” But surprisingly, it isn’t brash, or boisterous. There’s no over-usage of the horns and it’s nice to hear a contemporary group use an oboe and get it right. Two thumbs up for music theory 101.

What’s best about this album is what it borrows without misappropriating. It’s a cohesive body of work, with a diverse range of emotion. Each new song acts as its own piece, introducing you to another idea with the end of each track. Random Access Memories borrows, not to play with cool sounds, but to convey the instruments of their inspiration in a way that you doesn’t have to bring back Studio 54. The commercial success is well deserved.

Styles P. – Float album review

We’re not quite sure why Styles P.’s latest project is called Float, but we think it may be due to the lighthearted nature the album was supposed to project. Although it may be slightly misnamed, what’s refreshing is that Styles P. doesn’t shoot for commercial, because he doesn’t care to, and you won’t find it anywhere on the album. It’s a complete evocation of rap’s underground—the gully and the brash. And though a lot of people won’t have the opportunity to take this project seriously because it barely made the radar, there are still some highlights.

There’s no single concept with this album—just trash talk—completely reminiscent of early 00s street rap. And with Styles P.’s underground phantom persona, you can’t expect him to take on the sophistication of hip-hop all grown up. The album name “Float” makes you think of an artist that doesn’t take himself or anyone else too seriously. But how contrary is it that with menacing threats on songs like ”Bodies in the Basement” or “Hater Love” we think Styles P. is so for real?

Though we’ve never questioned Styles P.’s dedication to weed culture since “I Get High,” he doesn’t quite come off as the laid back introspective slow talking smoker you’d think to get from somebody who spent 15+ years in the rap game and should be basking in their Bad Boy glory days. There’s little easiness or nostalgia with this album, and he actually comes off kind of hype. Float is not very relaxed or carefree at all. In fact, the only thing Styles P. seems carefree about is cracking your skull open like a shell. We’re not sure he’s our kind of stoner. The weed haze covered album art is deceiving and if this album is full of Styles P.’s marijuana thoughts, he must not be smoking the best stuff. He relies heavily on the violence and brashness of his 1990s persona and the album at times, feels a little heavy for an album entitled “Float.” But it’d be unreasonable to expect him to abandon the hardcore elements that built him.

It’s nearly impossible to think of any song on the album that doesn’t threaten someone, their parents, or their clique, but Scram Jones’ production mellows everything out with sporadic smooth, jazzy instrumentation. “Shoot You Down” is probably the best song on the album. It draws from the early Lox without relying so heavily on the past. The production in its entirety isn’t a complete memory of the 90s conscious rap era, and hardens at times to sound a little Wu-Tang. The juxtaposition creates a nice balance, though we could do without the repetitive, threatening lyrics. Float isn’t bad. But we think we still prefer Styles P. as a ghostwriter.

Rhye – Woman album review

Rhye’s not so subtle quest to hide behind the veil of artistic obscurity has proven worth the frustration with their debut collaboration Woman. In fact, the pair has made a note of maintaining their secrecy by concealing their image (not even appearing in their own videos) to let their music remain the focal point. Though now revealed to be singer/producer Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, producer and ½ of the Danish electro-soul duo Quadron, when the duo’s first single “Open” hit the web months ago, we were left flirting with the possibility that the artist behind the provocatively effeminate vocals was either a Sade reincarnate or, the less likely, not a woman at all.

The aptly named title is not a cruel play on the notion that most listeners were expecting Milosh to be a chick. It is rather, a manifestation of what becomes of overt anonymity masked by sensuality —an alluring exploration of feeling and of music’s most overly exploited form of pleasure (no, not popping Molly’s) in the least banal way.

Rhye inevitably leaves much to the imagination, since you don’t have an overabundance of music videos and artist promo to make up your mind. This makes Woman an experience. Strings and faint saxophone arrangements embellish Milosh’s breathy voice, which serves as the journey’s path. The album is remarkably honest and seems to serve as a confession to a slight sex addiction, but in the most enticing way—it’s intimate without the lewd, sexy without the salacious and provocative without the crass.

Each of Woman’s 10 songs are relatively unblemished with each serving as a preface to the next, creating a nearly perfect body of work with Milosh’s silky smooth voice with the occasional crackle of raw feeling taking the forefront. On “Verse” he moans, “Ooh my song says it all/do you hear it in the verse, hear it in the verse/oh I’ll call when you see it on my face, see it on my face.” Simple lines like this are so forward, yet simultaneously, somehow saturated with depth and make each song inescapably captivating.

Indeed, the underlying element that really does this album in is the songwriting. It’s so audaciously simple, yet the delicate production dares you to really listen. The separation between instrumentals and vocals allows the listener a breath of fresh air to experience the voice and the lyrics.

Rhye may already be sick of the Sade comparisons, but on songs like “Shed Some Blood” you can’t help but hear the influence (the similarities don’t cheapen the group, but rather, give listeners a glimpse back into the past of a rare requited love circa the “Kiss of Life” era). But what’s special about this project is that what you don’t feel, you just have to guess. And though Rhye has claimed they will reveal more of themselves in the future, Woman may leave you wondering how you can feel so much while having known so little.