Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines album review

Robin Thicke is no longer just your mom’s favorite singer. Clearly tired of being pigeonholed into contemporary R&B limbo, he produces some A-list collaborations for his 6th studio album (with the likes of 2 Chainz, Pharrell and will.i.am), Blurred Lines, but his attempt to intellectualize the album’s concept of living between the lines of a world we only know to be black and white went right over our heads. Instead what we get are the lascivious thoughts of an oversexed (or too obviously the opposite) middle-aged man, who, instead of talking about the experiences that love has brought him, ditches the concept for something that, rather, teeters on the border of predatory. In fact, the only thing consistent about the album is the overtly sexual content. Blurred Lines surely finds Robin Thicke in a bit of a mid-life crisis.

Blurred Lines can be described as stylistically scattered, but the core of the album is the tracks that remain so strongly deep-rooted in R&B which promote an easier listen. Elements of disco, 70s dance, hip-hop, and even EDM all make an appearance, which create these said blurred lines that Thicke speaks of, but lyrically, nothing lays beneath the instrumentals but sex. And something tells us nobody else would be able to get away with saying half of this stuff in the real world.

The album opens up with the title track “Blurred Lines,” a super-hit that nobody saw coming, but it hardly set the precedent for the rest of the album that’s yet to come, and people who bought the album looking for more evening barbeque, barely legal, nude video inspired songs will likely be disappointed. But in a musical sense, this song is hardly the best the album has to offer with its lazy lyrics like, “I feel so lucky/You wanna hug me” and downright lewd content, especially coming from three family men like Robin Thicke, T.I, and Pharrell. The best work comes with the songs that follow.

“Ooo La La” is a good number with soft traces of disco and smooth guitar riffs, and the velvety inflections and effortless vibration of Thicke’s voice were never up for debate. “Ain’t No Hat 4 That” and “Get In My Way” sound a bit like Stevie Wonder: The Lost Tapes, if there ever was one, but it’s enough to please his long standing fans over 40.

“Give It 2 U” is an audacious EDM track that features Kendrick Lamar that sings “ Ooh what’s that girl/What’s that baby/I like that, girl/I like that, baby/On your back girl…/Yeah shake it like that girl” amongst other reprehensible things you probably can’t picture Robin Thicke saying. He tones down a bit by “Feel Good,” a track that sounds a bit naked and showcases his smoothly crackling vocals within a nice arrangement.

All in all, the album is a pretty easy listen with some cracks in the road, but it’s enough to get you down the street. Blurred Lines has the potential to be everyone’s favorite summertime album, the only problem is that it likely won’t stay around long.

Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines album review

Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go album review

Where Does This Door Go is the album Mayer Hawthorne claims he always wanted to make—a complete testament to his new desire to free himself from his inhibitions and go for not giving a damn. Even if the album is a complete curveball. And if the music on this album is what he’s always had on his mind, it makes us wonder how he even came up with songs like “I Wish It Would Rain.” This album is a musical medley at it’s finest—one with hip-hop rhythms, subtle reggae basslines, and funk music’s groovy guitar riffs, but what are most impressive are the instrumental inflections of the folk music that plagued the 60s and 70s. It’s America meets Carole King who are then happy to introduce us to Average White Band and Kool and the Gang. And what awaits us is a lovely listen.

The density of the content on this album is about as shallow as a blow up kiddie pool, but that’s what makes it so approachable. Mayer Hawthorne isn’t crying for love this time, but takes on emotions’ inevitable simplicities. You don’t have to be heavily enamored to have legitimate thoughts, but one-night stands can make for good music too. And in the few second gaps that separate each new track you can’t help but feel the apprehension of uncertainty, but with each new track comes an easy listen.

The instrumentation and lyrics make it sexy. In an overcrowded Venice Beach party kind of way. We can thank Mayer Hawthorne’s decision to ditch the Motown thing and try for a West Coast vibe for this. Kendrick Lamar even makes an appearance on “Crime.” What’s different is that Hawthorne has freed himself of some responsibility and employs a plethora of producers (including heavy hitters like Pharrell) instead of doing everything himself, which gave him room to play around, and the carefree element bleeds through all the album’s cracks in the best way. He even abandons his soft, breathy, falsetto croon and takes on a heavier chest voice—and though this makes his vocals sound a bit indistinct, it demonstrates his newfound confidence as a vocalist, considering that only an album ago, he would have never dared come out of falsetto.

Where Does This Door Go is upbeat and inviting from the jump. “Back Seat Lover” is a song with passionate instrumentation but is likely about a messy friend with benefits situation. In the reggae laden “Allie Jones” Hawthorne sings about a chick (who likely wears oversized hoodies and cutoff denim shorts) who could’ve had everything but appreciates nothing. But perhaps most memorable is “Her Favorite Song” as through a heavy bass and muted chords, it exemplifies the devotedness anyone can have for their music.

The differences between Where Does This Door Go and Mayer Hawthorne’s past albums are like the difference between love and lust.  It’s nice to feel that he isn’t taking himself too seriously this time around, and it’s exciting letting his lighthearted thoughts lead you.

Chrisette Michele – Better album review

We were left wondering why Chrisette Michele had disappeared after she lent her flawless vocals to the too cool “Aston Martin Music” in 2010. She comes back strong on her third album and introduces us to a new vibe with Better, and with a subtle stylistic change to a refreshing and modern feel, she still manages to maintain that balance between the old and the new without sacrificing her signature vocals, and even reminds us of the street credibility she’s garnered with collaborations with Wale and 2 Chainz, showing us once more why she’s beloved by so many different audiences.

Chrisette Michele must have gotten her heart broken pretty badly during her hiatus because this album serves as her diary entry that tells us she’s ready to try again. The 20-track album may seem a little overwhelming, but that’s just because, like most chicks, Chrisette Michele has quite the emotional range, and she’s honest enough to know how to explain. The album opens up with “Be In Love” a testament to her willingness to put her heart on a platter regardless of whoever’s ready to stab at it. And the album just picks up from there. “A Couple of Forevers” is the album’s real showstopper and it’s only the second track. It offers a lot more than a quintessential O’Jays sample—in it we find airiness, a great melody, and cutesy lyrics that aren’t too flowery. The violins dance to the opening and her voice whispers some kind of feeling to us as she sings, “…And I’m not asking for much, just a couple of forever’s/I’m the only one, you’re the only one/Together ‘til never…” It’s breathtaking, and everyone’s future wedding song.

We’re so glad Chrisette Michele took the time out to address the irony of the rich hipster in the aptly named “Rich Hipster,” not only because we’re so tired of the fake poor Williamsburg veganista, but because she made room for a light song on an emotionally dense album—something that mocks popular culture was just enough to tell us she didn’t completely fall off the face of the planet.

You’ll find most of the great songs on the first half of the album. Songs like “Love Won’t Leave Me Out” and “Snow” have a great instrumental and the sudden chord changes make it beautiful. Her staccato vocal drops from note to note and she’s begging us to realize that she’s still got it. As her voice skips on the title track “Better,” she sings,  “Cupid help me please, cause mister wrong keeps meeting me/And I got a funny feeling love’s around the corner…/Love’s gotta make me feel better, better, better.” On this album, she touches on the ups and downs of love, but really looks forward to more ups; a rare feat for someone who we can only assume has been stung by it so badly. We wish she had made more noise about it this album. It’s definitely worth paying attention to.

Wale – The Gifted album review

Somehow after the dismal release of Attention Deficit Wale found a way to become a legitimate name in hip-hop under the guidance of Maybach Music Group. He adopted ignorant rap into his repertoire after he realized fake deep and half-assed poetry was barely working, and with the release of his third LP The Gifted, he still tries to shake all the disappointment his debut caused and switches it up on us yet again with what he calls on the album’s first song, “The Curse of The Gifted,” ‘new black soul shit’—a more groovy take on what he tells us is a story about the price of fame.

Now cue The Gifted. Wale tries to take us on a journey of the woes of being rich through the album’s 16 tracks. He chronicles the girls, the shine, the haters, the grind, the haters, the cash, but most importantly, the haters. Tracks like “Heaven’s Afternoon” are laced with Wale’s desire to relieve the days where he started from the bottom, so much so that he may have created invisible haters to give the track its sting. Meek Mill effortlessly and accidentally outshines him on his own track and makes lyrics like “When I was dead broke I would still tell myself I’mma still be the shit/Told my P.O if she locked me up, I would do the time, come home, and still be this rich” make Wale’s words sound like unlived memories.

Not to say that Wale rapping about how the brokest guy in his crew is still a millionaire can’t be as powerful a narrative to demonstrate his trajectory in life. What sucks is his delivery, which makes his story fall short. How is this a curse of the gifted? In what ways, Wale, have you been gifted? He never tells.

When it comes to production Wale pulls out all the stops. Stokley Williams of Mint Condition fame brings the smooth and sultry element to songs like “LoveHate Thing” and Sam Dew makes it a great song and great radio cut. Just Blaze makes his mark and gives you something to feel on “88” as his signature high hats crash against the drum kicks and a piano solo resonates in the background.

The Gifted’s biggest hit lies at the bottom of the track listing. Listeners are most familiar with the album because of “Bad,” but you have to skip 15 songs to get to it. It’s petty of Wale to cheat himself because he couldn’t put the rumored beef between he and newcomer Tiara Thomas behind him—even if it was for the quality of the album, and he does himself and his listeners a disservice. His remix with Rihanna (which nonsensically comes 6 songs before the original) is a pitiful attempt at revenge, and even Rihanna tries to emulate Tiara Thomas’ crackling breathy vocals—an embarrassing attempt for an artist of her magnitude.

The cacophony of Wale’s deafening, brash, staccato flow coupled with smooth, soulful production deems The Gifted an uneasy listen. The songs are not bad ones. In fact, the problem isn’t that the songs don’t sound good enough, it’s that Wale’s voice and forgettable lyrics don’t sound good enough on top of them. And that’s what leaves The Gifted teetering on the border of mediocrity. But MMG has taught him a little bit. Wale has definitely picked up Ross’ talent for good beat picking, but apparently still needs coaching on how to spit lukewarm lyrics over tight beats and still make his audience believe that what they’re hearing is hot.

Maestro Fresh Wes – Orchestrated Noise album review

After a long 13 years hiatus, Maestro Fresh Wes has a lot to get off of his chest with a lengthy 18 track long album filled with each single thought that has run across his mind over the past literal decade. We don’t know what his obsession ever was with the idea of the symphonic orchestra, but Orchestrated Noise serves as a conceptual follow-up to 2000’s Symphony In Effect. Contrary to the album name, you won’t find any Rachmaninoff samples during the hour long run, but instead, with this album, he took on a no holds barred approach to a new, more modern, and even more commercial sound.

Maestro Fresh Wes lost the funky fresh feeling of his past work but didn’t cut corners when it came to featuring notable old school MCs like Chuck D. and Kool G. Rap. While these features are impressive, the lyrical exchange often seems muddled and the subtleties of the instrumental inflections are the highlights of the album. Even without all the features we’d still be here for the instrumentals and how each one is perfectly utilized.

Somehow each song remains so distinctly different from the next.  It must be said though, that at times, the production can seem a bit scattered. Perhaps this is due to the lack of a consistent theme. “Dearly Departed” featuring Kardinal Official displays brassy cymbals hidden behind fluttering flutes to yield one of the album’s most noted tracks. But this is almost immediately followed by “Desire,” a more electronic, Portishead-laden cut, which features Canadian electro-pop princess Lights and an occasional sharp snares and experimental screech. The off-kilter production never seems to bring the drama and climax of an orchestral movement like the album title promises, but somehow it showcases Maestro Fresh Wes as multi-faceted—he goes from the gritty (“The Conversation”) to the pretty (“See You On The Weekend”) and proves to be an artist that could so easily have been pigeonholed into the cool, but not so ubiquitous 90s rap realm of music, but instead decided to try for more relevance.

But it must be said that the distractingly obscure element of Orchestrated Noise is the concept. Is there one? Is there a deeper meaning we’re not catching on to? Regardless of the answer, it should not be this hard to capture. If you are looking for the Maestro Fresh Wes of the 90’s and early 00’s, you’re not gonna find it here. This album is a good way to explore what he has been up to, but as a disclaimer, it will not satisfy your craving for the artist you came for.

Empire Of The Sun – Ice On The Dune album review

2008’s Walking On A Dream catapulted Australian duo Empire Of The Sun into international stardom and onto H&M playlists all over Middle America. For a new and foreign act, that’s saying a little something. Their 2009 feature on “What We Talkin’ Bout” requested by Jay-Z himself (but not without questionability) seemed most promising; a feat that could secure their spot on electro-pop dance charts putting them at the forefront of relevancy.

5 years should have been more than enough time for masterminds like Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore to come up with a flawless follow-up. Instead, their sophomore album Ice On The Dune doesn’t seem like a real upgrade since their debut and is nothing but lackluster in comparison, and in a subtle way, it may even be worse. Pre-2011 Empire Of The Sun spearheaded their genre as electron dons and one of the reasons people showed up to Coachella. But that was pre-2011 before artists like Disclosure and Daft Punk, who returned to snatch their spot. And with the new release of Ice On The Dune, it seems to be that they don’t want it back.

There’s something so much less catchy about the songs on Ice On The Dune—a very odd thing, knowing Empire Of The Sun are the masters of releasing impressionable songs you always seem to know even if you can never remember where you picked them up. But the songs on this album sound so distractingly similar to one another that they’re almost unidentifiable, which makes it nearly impossible for any single track to stand out. It’s evident that the duo attempted to create a thorough follow up under the pressures of their much better debut, but they still faltered.

The album opens up with “Lux” which showcases an entire orchestral movement. Empire Of The Sun could’ve muted the theatrics because this piece definitely does not set the precedent for what’s left to come. It seems each song just has a cool name with no content. “Alive” seems more than what it actually sounds like. Even chanting ‘alive’ a million times as in “Loving every minute cuz you make me feel so alive, alive, alive” doesn’t actually make you feel alive. But the staccato keys and radiant synths are just enough to get your feet moving, if even in the littlest bit. “Awakening” shows the slightest glimmer of a hidden gem with its Donna Summer type disco edge and steady beat. It’s just difficult to understand what said ‘awakening’ refers to. But what’s most unfortunate about the album is not the undelivered messages, but that the production of Empire Of The Sun’s second album completely mimics that of the first. It’s impossible to hear any growth, any fresh creativity, and any yearning.

There’s a reason that this type of music is constantly played in the mall—because it’s just enough to make people feel good, but not enough to grab their attention. With respect to their past work, Empire Of The Sun could have had more of a chance at stardom. But with this release, they risk their only listeners being the millennial shoppers in the local H&M.

Kanye West – Yeezus album review

Given his latest buzz-worthy antics, it was frightening to fathom the possibility that it could’ve proven insurmountable to divorce the Us Weekly Kanye from the multi-faceted artistic genius with the insatiable hunger of a starving artist. But the stunning thing about Kanye West is that he always pushes aesthetic boundaries, consistently outdoing himself and always finding the keyhole that unlocks a new level originality, art, and emotion.

The album title Yeezus is not just a play on the provocative, but rather, serves as a mockery of Kanye’s persona, as the album quite unexpectedly restricts the narrative of a self-absorbed egomaniacal rapper who consistently flirts with audacity, and instead paints the picture of a man basking in his social stature, but still hasn’t shaken the same debilitating, profound (and sometimes callow) insecurities. We’d known Kanye had more layers than an onion, but on this album he doesn’t peel back so many. Yeezus draws a concise 40-minute picture of who Kanye is—an insecure street philosopher, wannabe, and sex addict who just wants to shine—one who screams out his faults before you can even call his bluff. But don’t go expecting him to tell you something you didn’t already know. Because on Yeezus, it’s not that he has so much more to say, he just has a new way of saying it.

Yeezus is a new wave album and abandons the saturated bass and smooth sampling of Late Registration’s past. Kanye even pairs up with Daft Punk on four songs to create a sense of authenticity. On the album’s first track “On Sight” he barely achieves this, but what saves the song is its incongruence—a techno beat impetuously paired with a gospel chorus, which somehow creates the perfect marriage. It’s nothing if not creative, and it is an element Kanye brings to most of the album’s 10 tracks. The punk edge continues on “Black Skinhead,” but the focal point of this song is difficult to infer. In fact, much of the album’s lyrics aren’t the starkest, but the brilliance comes from the moodiness and accidental honesty the second half of Yeezus brings.

Many times Kanye comes across as trying to prove himself to himself more than to the actual listener. The irony of “I Am A God” comes with the simple notion that he tries to cheat the listener into believing he thinks that highly of himself as he hides behind bravado, hierarchy and conceit, though songs like “Guilt Trip” whisper otherwise. He sings, “The door locked by myself and I’m feelin’ it right now/cause it’s the time when my heart got shot down…if you love me so much the why’d you let me go?” as a muted trumpet resonates behind video game sounds and a cello cadence. His failure to fool the listener into accepting his fictitious sense of self-assuredness is what creates such veracity. Album highlight “Blood on the Leaves” is telling. It’s a murky tale of dejection and betrayal dichotomized by a haunting “Strange Fruit” sample. It’s an exemplification that what’s to be learned from Yeezus is that Yeezy isn’t actually invincible, but almost defenseless and emotionally naked in a word of excess, status and yearning, and that maybe underneath, if all that money still hasn’t bought him happiness it probably never will.

Disclosure – Settle album review

Impressively, brothers Guy and Howard of Disclosure were able to abandon the bravado some new artists take on to mask the overt sense of intimidation they feel for making a name for themselves within their genre. What’s even more impressive? The UK newcomers take this on in a genre older and likely more respected than they are; and if there’s one thing the UK does well, it’s electronica. It’s a genre that has become so ubiquitous, it’s almost audacious for 19 and 22 year old artists to challenge its popularity by putting forth a debut album that refuses to echo the work of electro-house pioneers, but rather sets it’s own mode by employing an original flavor that yields a completely thorough, honest, body of work.

What makes Settle great as a debut album is that it’s a consistent catalogue that doesn’t try to fit within the pressures of the commercial framework by artists that don’t rely too heavily on their influences, but rather, create merely based off of what they know and feel. Disclosure didn’t go overboard on the features—a mistake very many new artists make—with the likes of fellow UK artists like AlunaGeorge, Eliza Doolittle, and Jessie Ware, each collaboration merely enhances the respective songs, but we still get a sense of who Disclosure are. Settle sometimes lacks a strong lyrical component, perhaps because of the brothers’ self-admitted lack of songwriting abilities. But each dance floor love track like “White Noise” hums the perfect words to balance out the production. Aluna Francis sings “Only you can look at me the way you do/you always tint me, tint me black and blue/such a shame, you frame me with such disdain/you got me washed out, washed out, color drained.” The lyrics don’t overwhelm you and give you just enough to relate to, and enough to dance to. The beauty is that you can tell Disclosure was having fun with the album while never taking themselves too seriously.

What Disclosure lacks in the verbal they make up for in all other senses of creativity. The highlight of the album is the dance numbers, but there are even touches of neo soul and post modern R&B that do the album in. “Latch” features the velvety vocals of Sam Smith. It’s loaded with lightheartedness and a touch of longing. It sounds a little Usher, but is distinctive enough to still get a spin in your local dance club without you thinking it’s him. Songs like “Second Chance” are a testament to how well the production on Settle is executed. It’s oozy and slinky, and each sound is like a roller coaster ride filled with sonic waves and fluidity. The frenetic zing of each instrument makes it noticeably difficult to refrain yourself from moving about and the occasional skip of each beat proves why. We can see many of the tracks being played out at any ambient dance club, and one thing’s for certain: Disclosure won’t be going anywhere for a long, long time.

Neeon – Neeonovum album review

German artist Neeon has released his debut LP Neeonovum just in time for the summer. It probably wasn’t in his best interest to release his album just moments after Daft Punk’s latest project, but as a much lower profile artist, listeners will hopefully forget to make the comparison. That being said, the music of Neeonovum is not something we’ve never heard before, but it’s something we don’t hear often enough.  And when it comes to electro and synth-pop, we like when we hear someone do sequencers and and tape loops a little differently.

Neeonovum seems almost abbreviated only yielding 7 tracks, but with each, Neeon brings a lightly celestial, but thickly sensuous album furnished with fluidity and movement from start to finish. Neeon is almost hallowed with a pitch perfect voice suggestive of Cee Lo and Pharrell until his vibrato kicks and you realize his voice is so much better. His vocal range is almost too polished for the genre, as many artists simply rely on instrumental embellishment to mask mediocre vocal talents. Neeon sticks within the synth-pop framework and very much utilizes his production, but he finds the perfect balance between heavy instrumentals and a sometimes-sing, and when he needs to, he offers his voice—a husky, breathy and subtly enigmatic instrument that creates a sense of evocation to each track that calls for it.

Neeonovum opens up with “Mellow,” an intro based solely on instrumentals, that isn’t actually mellow at all because the chord regressions make the song too ornately beautiful. But “Mellow” does showcase a bit of talent.  It’s a half dance track, half sit-back-and-smoke-a-cigarette track. Next is “Zero Gravity.” We guess that’s supposed to mean we’re supposed to feel at ease and like we’re floating, but again, we’re too busy dancing.

Not all of these songs work on their own, and would do better as Mia Moretti mixes. “Mr. Lovefool” is a perfect example. In a way, it’s the glue that holds the album together (maybe because it’s one of the only songs that sounds like an actual organized song), but it can’t stand alone for a full 3 minutes and 35 seconds and we’d still like to hear it as a mash-up.

The core of this album is that it’s for the dance. It even borrows some elements of disco. “Best Friend” takes us back to Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots.”  “Fuck For Infiniti” is a little George Benson. But the beauty of what Neeon does is taking elements of an almost abandoned genre that pioneered dance music’s present, and flipping it to make it relevant. For this, Neeonovum is refreshing. Most of all, it’s something you’d like to look forward to hearing played in every nightclub you can’t get in to.

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.