How do we remember? What is it that clings to us long after the moment has gone? Memory tends to exist first as a series of images, of sensations encoded in words that we then arrange as we piece together the narratives we think of as our remembered lives. The unsettling truth, though, is that all of these stories are our own constructions, and once we start sifting through them, trying to pin down the kernels of reality, they begin to drift apart, vaporous as curls of smoke escaping up from the dance floor.
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…
There are little monsters all around us, hiding in the air, crouched in the grass, peeking out of our pockets. They cluster in public spaces, around parks and monuments, drawn by scraps of food, or by the scent of incense hanging on the breeze. They are the same monsters we saw as children, the ones we had all but forgotten, and now they’re back.
(Edit: Due to massive amounts of copyright infringement, The Was has been taken off Vimeo. It can now be found here.)
The gang’s all here. When Soda_Jerk and The Avalanches get together, they invite everybody they know. The recently released collaboration between the two sample-based groups is one of those things that, having happened, now seems utterly inevitable. Both make new things out of old things, one with film, the other with music. The fruit of their union comes to us in the form of a thirteen minute audiovisual collage of movies and cartoons spanning more than sixty years, accompanied by a medley of songs from The Avalanche’s latest album, Wildflower.
The experience of watching it is a kind of sensory unmooring, a drift back through the cultural consciousness in a series of scenes laid over one another with the cohesion of a dream logic that never seems to quite reveal itself, just as the music never quite settles into this or that song. We see faces we know, places we recognize, but the words don’t always match up to the movements of the lips, and the people aren’t always where they should be.
Just before the halfway point, Beavis and Butthead trudge through the paint-huffing scene from Citizen Ruth. A naked Steve Martin from The Jerk wanders by, covering himself with dogs. “Marie, Marie!” He cries.
“Everything decent’s been done,” says Butthead, borrowing a monologue from Pump Up the Volume. “All the great themes have been used up, turned into theme parks. So I don’t really find it exactly cheerful to be living in the middle of a totally exhausted decade, where there’s nothing to look forward too and no one to look up to.”
But the early 90’s malaise doesn’t last long. The next scene has everyone pillaging the supermarket to the tune of Biz Markie, pulling things off the shelves, gorging themselves on whatever they can find. This is how sampling works. The Was is an exercise in defeating the exhaustion of the used-up by breaking it all down, picking up the fragments and rearranging them into something that is both unrecognizable and familiar.
From there, the video moves into a realm of double exposure as the Lords of Dogtown skate through a mashup of pool parties. The pool is at once empty and full, the water receding with a rush into the blue concrete wave of a SoCal afternoon. The finale comes in bursts of flame across suburbia, on roofs and bushes, a faint fire that might be in front of the couples kissing beside whitewashed houses, or might lie just beyond them. It’s difficult to tell, with everything as a calculated unsettling of the images, all of them flickering together at once. All in all, it’s a strangely comfortable feeling of disorientation.
“It’s a world of fantasy,” sing the chorus girls, and they’re right. It still is. It always was.
Here it comes. Another goddamn epiphany about Kanye West. I know what you’re thinking, but there’s no way around it. The man continually demands our attention. That’s actually what this whole thing is about. Micah and I reviewed The Life of Pablo earlier this year, and my feelings regarding the album haven’t really changed–I still think it’s all over the place, and doesn’t really function holistically as a piece of music.
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