White Bear Polar Tundra is, I guess, alternative rock. They didn’t invent the term, but they’ve embraced it. I’ve always been a little confused by it, myself. Alternative to what, exactly? Alternative to pop rock? Classic rock? Hard rock? Glam Rock? Punk Rock? Alternative to choral music or rap music or jazz? Of course it’s an alternative to all of these things–everything is an alternative to everything. I try not to get too caught up in sub-genre micro-distinctions, but this one kinda bugs me, because it seems to set up an opposition that doesn’t really have to exist.
There is no chance in hell you can ever expect an unbiased Frank Ocean review from me. I got hooked on his music almost exactly five years ago, but it wasn’t infatuation on first listen. I stumbled upon nostalgiaULTRA when I was heavy into Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, The Creator’s early work, but it didn’t click for me until I heard Frank described as the neo-soul James Taylor. In a way, the two are uncannily similar. Their musical styles feel homegrown, each with their own kind of longing Americana, each completely different from everything you’ve ever heard, yet incredibly familiar and comforting. Once that connection registered with me, I began to obsess over cuts like ‘Strawberry Swing’ and ‘We All Try.’ Since Channel Orange came out a year later, I haven’t looked back.
Everybody starts somewhere different. This is the point of the game. I happened to materialize amongst crimson flowers, on a small plateau overlooking a canyon filled with fat green trees whose leaves glowed neon in the light of a distant sun. The clouds overhead were greenish yellow, the sky a greenish blue. Squidly-looking alien creatures floated lazily by. My ship sat smoking next to me, presumably having been damaged in whatever crash had stranded me here.
Henry: Hold the phone. Noname is on the line. This year has seen a host of releases from Chicago artists, and I get the feeling that all of them have been trying less successfully to make an album like this. Call it jazz, call it hip-hop, call it neo-soul, Telefone drips and bounces to its own organic rhythm, and the vocal performances are across the board some of the strongest of the year. The tight 10-track list feels complete, but leaves you wanting more, waiting to be called back, staring at the telephone.
Micah: I was so excited for the release of this album. It’s been a long time since Noname (previously Noname Gypsy) showed up on one of the most tender cuts off Chance the Rapper’s seminal mixtape, Acid Rap. Since then through countless features and loose tracks she’s proven herself to be one of the most promising upcoming rappers. After three years of national exposure without a complete project under her belt, the wait is finally over, and it was worth it. Noname has the ability to grab your attention without demanding it, instead her smooth precise flows draw you into her world of swirling wordplay and refrains of ‘Everything is everything.’ I’m so excited to finally have this album to delve into, so without further ado, let’s dig in.
Henry: Blank Face is hard to read. Schoolboy Q’s latest release has me staring, trying to read its expression. The problem with being on TDE is that the Kendrick comparisons are inevitable, and although he still isn’t winning those, Q has clearly been in the classroom, honing his craft alongside some of the best rappers in the game right now. His vocal delivery here is solid, varied, laid back yet energetic, and complimented by a host of producers who maintain a steady energy throughout. What the album lacks is a clear statement. The series of videos released for Blank Face tell a story of Q getting caught up in a robbery with his homies, but the songs only loosely correspond to the narrative in the visuals. Given just the music, it’s hard to discern any particular focus. Maybe this unreadability is the meaning of the title, an inscrutable facade, empty as a blank page. Then again, maybe I’m reading too far into it…
Micah: I tried writing a review for this album in our typical format, but it didn’t work. It was difficult expressing how much I liked it while repeating myself on every song. Still Brazy needs to be addressed as a whole because the songs are incredibly similar to each other, but work together towards a single end. The album is straight up hard hitting West Coast gangster rap that combines glossy production with grimy and guttural raps. YG is menacing yet soft spoken, and his delivery is blunt. It is very clear what YG wants to say. He does not want you coming to where he’s from, he’d very much like to know who shot him, he thinks American politicians and the justice system are against people like him, and to be honest, he’s probably right. Read more The Breakdown: Still Brazy, by YG
Micah: Paul Simon is my favorite songwriter of all time. From his folk work with Art in the 60’s, to his singer-songwriter rock and roll in the 70’s, to his explorations into foreign rhythms and sounds in the 80’s, to his missteps in the 90’s, and to his rebirth in 2006, Paul Simon has set a new standard for longevity amongst his contemporaries, a list which includes Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Neil Young.
Micah: I have been waiting for this album for a long time. Acid Rap came out three years ago, and Surf felt more like a Social Experiment album featuring Chance than the other way around. I’ve been missing that positive, bouncy, gospel-tinged raps from the fiercely independent Chance the Rapper. Since he got on the map, Chance has reinvested his momentum back into the musicians that helped him create his music, the city he lived in, and his sonic foundation.
Henry: I haven’t listened to much James Blake to be honest, though I’ve heard his music around and generally liked it. That being said, I have to be in a certain kind of mood to listen to him. His slow, atmospheric style has a kind of pensive melancholy to it, which can either be nice or sorta depressing. I do like how smooth this whole album is, almost entirely devoid of sharp, high frequencies, save for rim-shot snares and crisp hi-hats here and there, which cut through the swelling harmonies to carry this thing along.
“I didn’t ask for this!” growls a hysterical Andrew Lincoln in a monologue sampled on the intro of Doc ILLingsworth’s latest release, which takes its name from the line in question. In the original context, Lincoln plays Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead. The lines are from a pivotal scene where he outright takes control of the group of survivors. “Let’s get one thing straight,” he says, his tone now grim. “You’re staying? This isn’t a democracy anymore.”