Track Roundup: April
Throughout this month there have been a lot of good album releases, and also a good number of track releases from various upcoming projects from artists! Continuing off my last roundup, I can still definitely tell that the more "Summer friendly" music is making its emergence from hibernation. Generally this means in my opinion, that a lot more good pop music comes out around this time of year. Hip-hop artists adhere to this formula as well, many seeming to engineer their album promotional cycles for the summer. Just the other day Kanye West announced not one but 2 albums slated for this June... More on that in a month or so...
The first track I'm covering is the definition of a feelgood, simple, summer pop track. Bloodpop is on production here and the resurgence of Funk that has become a trend the past year is strong here, with very rhythm driven guitar samples and simple keys this song provides just enough of a beat to let John Legend's voice come through. His vocals are ok, I am not really a fan of his singing at all. I mean, he's good but there are male singers in his genre who are far more talented and underappreciated.
My opinions on John Legend aside, this is a good funky summer song. It was paired with a video filmed entirely on a Google Pixel 2, and to be honest I was quite impressed with the video. Not that that matters of course.
I have never been a huge fan of Drake, I find his rapping voice grating and his songwriting(or is it really his?!?) to be very basic and simple. However there is an undeniability that he knows how to make a product that people want. Hit after hit Drake will dominate the charts with every new release and I can appreciate that. "Nice for What" is a very standard "Drake rapping" track, and while the beat is nice, as are most of Drake's songs, it doesn't feel like it really does anything or goes anywhere.
All of his 2018 releases including "Nice for What" are now confirmed to be in anticipation of his new album Scorpion, coming out in June. While many of his fans prefer "Drake rapping" songs, I far and away prefer "Drake singing" songs. That may be an unpopular opinion, but he does have a good singing voice and while his success is far more apparent now, back when he was still competing with other musicians I feel like he tried a lot harder with his singing. There are some nice flows on "Nice for What", but because of the monotone inflection most falls flat. We'll see how Scorpion fares when it is released.
Black Metal is a tricky beast for me, a lot of my favourite Metal albums are heavily influenced by Black Metal and usually to like a "Black Metal" album it has to have melodic or symphonic elements for me to be really engaged. Traditional Black Metal has never worked for me, it bores me before the song ends. There are a few exceptions when it comes to certain bands, but it is a fair generalization. Wiegedood, or translated to English: "Death in the Cradle" bring something unidentifiable to the table which hold my attention far more than most Traditional Black Metal bands.
Good Production and Black Metal have a very conflicting history; poor production is literally cinsidered to be a staple of the genre, but this track and Wiegedood's prior material have excellent production which isn't too clean, and still feels raw and natural. Just as Black Metal apparently should. While the lack of punchy bass guitar in the mix is regrettable, the dueling guitar patterns work well with the progression of the song. The power and aggression that comes through in tandem with the guitars, drums and vocals here is palpable. This track never lets up, and has a very simple yet effective chord progression, so simple it surprises me it hasn't been used before in a Black Metal song. I can never put my finger on what makes this track stand out but it has made me a staunch fan of the band.
Jason Boyd, or "Poo Bear" is the man who deserves far more credit than he gets when it comes to the success of Justin Bieber, having been one of his main songwriting companions since 2013. I didn't know any of this until looking into this song, which shows the lack of exposure this man has.
This song is a very standard Pop/R&B hit, and it works in that respect. The clean and strong vocals from both Mr. Bear and Mr. Bieber are clear and their different ranges make for an interesting dynamic, which makes up for the relatively simple melody. Much of this song sounds like a late 2000s radio hit, which in many ways isn't bad, just quite interesting. The highlight of this track is the once in a blue moon verse from Jay Electronica himself, the most elusive and interesting man in Hip-hop whose second album has only been in the works for 11 years. Jay Electronica is a very technical and complex rapper, and it is refreshing in a rap to have a purely clever verse put to a microphone:
The bigger picture and the smaller picture
Are exactly the same, it's macro, micro
Crack your atom and let your light glow
One day, you could be the king of pop
And the next one just be "Wacko" Michael
It's human nature, just like he told us
Let's face reality, crack the cycle
If I had to pick a favourite track from this list, this might very well be it.
Freddie Gibbs is the most underrated rapper at the top of his game, it is a shame he isn't more popular but in this current soundcloud rap climate that isn't surprising. Freddie Gibbs has been a mainstay in the development of my journey into Hip-hop, starting around 8 years ago with Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Freddie Gibbs is the rapper keeping the spirit of Gansta Rap alive, from the beats he works with, to the lyrical content of his songs, to his continued refusal to sell out. On albums, if he features anyone he will feature only artists he came up. If you want to qualitatively categorize Gibbs, he defines "Real".
"Colors" is a classic Freddie Gibbs song, it has everything that encompasses his sound. A soulful, mournful beat sampling saxophones and pitched down classic Soul vocals bleeds underneath the three individual verses that make up this song. Gibbs stands strongest amongst his features, which never surprises and contains braggadocio remarks about how he is free to wear the set colors he pleases, referring to Crips and Bloods. G Perico and Mozzy hold up against Freddie Gibbs, but there is rarely any competition on a Freddie Gibbs song when you're playing off Gibbs himself.
The first real "Summer Song" is here and it is powerful. A reason I respect Ariana Grande is that she doesn't skimp out on using her voice, it sounds like everything I've heard her sing is sung with all the power she's been given and that is refreshing. There are many pop artists today who play too much with their voice, not that experimentation is a bad thing... Hell, Progressive Rock is one of my favourite genres and that exists for experimentation. Camila Cabello for example, is a talented singer, but her last two singles "Havana" and "Never Be The Same" are either lazily sung, or plain weird. Ariana Grande is not a lazy singer.
Despite my praise, this song is kind of a mixed bag. The chorus is ridiculously powerful and purely melodic, literal butter to the ears(?) But where the song falls a bit to me is during the verses, the kind of half-spoken, half-sung vocals are a bit jarring compared to the straight forward and in your face chorus. I think with more well engineered verses which match the melody and pace of the chorus, this song could stick with me a long time.
I never thought I would be covering a new Prince song in 2018, but here I am. Ok, well it isn't new. Prince wrote this song fora side project called The Family, and for some reason it was scrapped and given to Sinéad O'Connor, now that version is quite fine but knowing that backstory you can just hear Prince singing the song. Prince wrote it with the intention of singing it, and had since performed it live many times. Now however we get to hear a presumed lost recording from the sessions with The Family, and it is just as pristine as the Sinéad O'Connor version. Any chance I get to talk about Prince's musical ability I will take, so I count this as new.
Kamasi Washington is prepping to release Heaven & Earth and I will be paying close attention and listening as soon as possible. His last release, and EP called Harmony of Difference was one of my favourite releases of last year. He is an incredible Jazz bandleader, and composer and considering this new album will be a full length I simply cannot wait to see what he does. Adding coal to my hype train are the two new tracks he released as singles for the album: "The Space Travellers Lullaby" and "Fists of Fury".
"Fists of Fury" is Kamasi Washington's Bond theme, even though nobody asked him for it. "I Use My Hands to Help My Fellow Man", sounds just like Bond. Everything about this track fits well, every typical Jazz instrument takes centre stage at some point over the course of the 9 minutes, intertwined with vocalists Dwight Trible and Patrice Quinn. The poignant lyrics only help to increase the mood of the song as it ramps up in energy and pace, and drive the important message of intolerance for intolerance home.