Kendrick Lamar – Damn. Review 

I have repeated myself many times like many others about the extent of Kendrick Lamar’s talent, skill and commercial weight. No more has this been proved then the last couple of weeks from releasing the first single from Damn., announcing the release of the album and it’s release today. He generates his own excitement and his own speculation and where others need a drawn out schedule, constantly reminding people of their album date months in advance, releasing several singles before the release date; Kendrick can practically drop the album out of the blue. It has still garnered more attention that other this year and he more than a simple Hip Hop act, rapping about materialistic things and their rich life. Kendrick Lamar is newsworthy. His lyrics are his reports on the world as he sees it and with that you’ll find musical quality and awareness to go with it. Could this be the biggest album of 2017?

‘Humble.’ takes on issues of image and greed in modern America like he took on his contemporaries and political scandal in ‘The Heart Part 4’. This track has caused well documented controversy with people equally supporting and opposing his lyrics related to photoshop and how people appear in the media. Musically, it is rather simple with plunging piano chords and steady clap beats, but with this he generates a pulsating and charged sound from which he can deal out his rapid lyrics. This song is more punchy and biting and that is true of the music as it is the lyrics. A bold first single. ‘Pride’ is masterfully delivered and produced track as bending, loose riffs and resonant sounds drape themselves over a waiting low bass line. Musically it has echoes of Conan Mockasin or Mac DeMarco and the hazy tones are met with warped falsettos and pitch shifting deliveries from Kendrick. It couldn’t be any more different from the first single and he tells of the damage of too much pride and how he’d trade everything for faith and work. As this goes on, the song takes small pauses to lift the next set of chords seamlessly. ‘Lust’ is another example of Lamar trialling experimentation with distorted, drawn out riffs and stabbing effects of rewound sounds still generate an smooth, yet tense sound. It includes a great set of lyrics of going from bewilderment at the state of the nation to going back into the daily routine. 

‘XXX.’ is a song that tells the tale of murder in the United States from the Blud and Crips in Compton and to the selfish and doomed to collapse dealings on Wall Street. He questions what his country has become “if we’re honest or basked in sin?”. He swipes at those such as Fox News who try to whip up fears about Lamar. This song mirrors his response to their claims that he’s promoting gang violence and incitement of black violence; that is the reality around him. He is not the writer in this sense, but the narrator. He makes clear again his aversion to gang violence, gun violence, Wall Street greed and Police brutality in equal measure. Bono is featured on the track bridging each verse in the final section of the track. ‘Love’ features Zacari and is a gently lapping track with crisp beats emerging from hazy synths and Zacari’s soft toned lyrics and easy falsettos. Kendrick groups his lines around each synth chord. With ‘Blood’ the album opens with a soulful track with walking bass lines and quivering, muted strings as Lamar talks of good deeds in a distant, wistful fashion. With rich vocal harmonies on either side, it is a dramatic and theatrical statement to open the album with. 

The album ends with a telling narrative of Lamar’s father and manager with ‘Duckworth’. With wonderfully and continuously executed samples, he tells the story of how easily his father could have been killed in another KFC robbery led by his now manager Top Dawg. He decided to “let him slide” with Kendrick pondering how it might have played out. “Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence Because if Anthony killed Ducky Top Dawg could be servin’ life While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight.” It is a mark of Lamar’s talent to end the album like this. It is an album that has a different sound to Pimp A Butterfly but is more varied and experimental in this case. His lyrics are more consistently pointed and abrupt, but this doesn’t stop him from releasing an album of various tones and textures. There’s almost no weak link present here and to produce an album like this with all the attention and pressure upon him this time around, is truly a mark of a great artist. Kendrick Lamar is certainly one of those. 

Kendrick Lamar – Damn. = 10/10

Owen Riddle 

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy Review 

Joshua Tillman has significantly elevated his standing amongst critics and the public over the course of the last five years. Fear Fun was an album that strongly hinted at his talent for combining black humour with a strong musical base. I Love You, Honeybear demonstrated is skill as a musical narrator in all forms as he used everything from easy acoustic folk and piano ballads to ring true his introspective thoughts and feelings. Pure Comedy is an album delivered in full spotlight of the media and much of the public. Now we have legendary names being placed alongside his. Harry Nilsson and Paul Simon to name just two. With his increased presence, it seems only fitting that looks to be an outward projection to the world around him; his flippancy, eccentricity and melodic skills all tools for doing so this time around. Will it maintain his upward projectory? 

With the title track he follows a similar piano ballad style, to ‘Bored in the USA’. Presumably no longer ‘Bored in the USA’, Tillman resorts to finding humour in the chaos of American politics. Taking aim at religion as he often does, he compares priests to the cult of Donald Trump when he sings, ‘Oh, their religions are the best /They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed /With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits /And they get terribly upset /When you question their sacred texts / Written by woman-hating epileptics’. He goes on saying that these people have ‘horizons that just forever recede/ And how’s this for irony, their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs /That they never ever have to leave’. It may not be as original as his previous work on a musical basis but with these insightful lyrics, Joshua Tillman shows he hasn’t lost his touch in the two years between his last LP and his next. The Ballad of the Dying Man’ is an example of his fixating writing style. That he writes each song in a distinctly American songbook style only heightens the irony on which his lyrics thrive. Amongst the flowing piano chords, stringed together with gentle acoustic strumming are his swipes at the ‘homophobes, hipsters and one percent’ and the idea that a dying man would check his news feed on his last breath. Bold and uncomfortable lyrics encased in this familiar and warm sound is what makes this song and his recent catalogue of music as a whole. With ‘Two Widely Different Perspectives’ he swipes at the common topic of war and division. He places his verses in two parts with each a comparison that brands both sides the same. With these tracks we can see how his vocals are even stronger than two years ago and is developing a style somewhere between Harry Nilsson and Paul Simon; a comparison in part for he is his own artist, but something he’s becoming worthy of. 

With ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ he continues to channel that Americana style with chiming piano chords tied up in a jangling acoustic riff with the accentuation of a few Saxophones. In this track he turns his narrative of modern life to our slow degradation as we take on more technology. The lyrics conclude with historians discovering our lifeless corpses with “frozen smiles” on their faces. Father John Misty doesn’t do subtle and that is what makes these songs so captivating. ‘Things It Would Be Helpful To Know Before The Revolution’ is a piece of music delivered through a warm piano ballad as he coolly snipes “so we overthrew the system because there’s no place for human existence”. He muses that his “social life as a little less hectic” as he consoles his empty self amongst a pleasant afternoon setting. The song then take on a ‘Day In The Life’ twist as distorted and whirring string sections fire the song to an echo chamber of Joshua Tillman’s unsettling notes on the nature of the place he lives. The song then slips out of this sonic phase and back into the piano ballad setting. It is a sobering demystifying of our existence that concludes this track as he declares earth as “this godless rock that refuses to die”. As a lyrical and musical combination, it seems an outrageous concept, yet he hammer the unsettling message home in the most reassuring way possible. 

‘Birdie’ is an ode to a bird that’s beyond the events of the earth below with a slightly satirical, idealistic view of the future. An acoustic track that is aiding by a wondrous and ambitious piece of production given the limited foundations of the track, yet a view samples that go on to lead up soaring, morphing soundscapes show how it can be done. ‘Leaving L.A’ is an utterly unnerving piece of gentle music mixed with stinging lyrical content that tears into the culture generated by the city he occupies to the crushing disappointment he is said to be to his dying father. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else on this album, Joshua Tillman showcases his ability to catch us completely off guard with his songwriting. ‘Twenty Years From Now’ is a shimmering piano track that easily deconstructs the myth of our existence before flying off into a spacious and vast instrumental. Off the back of that, he effortlessly rolls on. He declares that “in twenty years time this human experiment will reach its violent end” before boldly swooning that “there’s nothing to fear”. On that note the album ends with steady waves of strings. 

I’ll be honest. I thought this album was going to be brilliant, but it landed so far ahead of where I expected it to fall. We all knew he was an accomplished songwriter, but with Pure Comedy Joshua Tillman has announced himself as one of the great songwriters; to sit with those greats he’s compared to as opposed to sounding a bit like them. Musically, it is not mind blowing, but it doesn’t need to be. He commands each track himself and when he does show some musical ambition, it is a beautiful and tragic experience. Anyone and everyone should take the time to listen to this. It’s a mirror of the world we live in and Father John Misty shows beautifully just how ugly the reflection is. Ironic to the last. 

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy = 10/10

Owen Riddle and Callum Christie 

SOHN – Rennen Review 

SOHN is the stage name of London born and previously Vienna based producer Christopher Taylor. He is one of our most talented producers and musicians with Kwabs bringing him in to produce his brilliant debut album with Lana Del Rey and BANKS just a few others who have requested his services. Since basing himself in L.A, he’s produced a second album in Rennen which comes two years after his debut album Tremors and offers up a clear, yet natural progression to his sound. His strong debut and high demand will up the scrutiny as always, but a change of environment and events usually inspire something or has it only cemented his complacency? 

‘Signals’ is a spaced out and with resonant synth chords that chime gently across the track and its steady percussion. Chris’ vocals calmly sweep in to the setting with pitch shifted backing vocals providing a haunting backdrop. These gentle elements come to a colourful and bold fruition with greater volume and freedom from the initial arrangement into bursts of sound. ‘Conrad’ is a stylish and effortlessly delivered track which is now becoming the norm for SOHN. In many ways it is the archetypal SOHN track with buzzing, whirring electronica with heavy melodies stemming from them. With this single, however he reconfigures his sound with a prominent beat and a freer vocal performance which takes the main focus as opposed to the synth chords. It makes for a song with a greater connection, but a song that retains those cold waves of sound that are beautifully put together. Another strong track. ‘Hard Liquor’ is symbolic of Taylor maintaining the foundations of his sound, but with rougher edges and occasional fast pace forays. This single is symbolic of this adjustment with more prominent beats, scratching synths and a strong whirring sound set around a matured lyrical style. The transition from sparse and minimalist to rhythmic and hook laden is sudden, but smoothly in line with the raised vocals, thus isolating both atmospheres neatly. 

The title track is an echoing piano ballad with vocal rounds and this song seems to have triggered a wave of critics labelling the album a modern Blues record. I wouldn’t go that far, particularly with this track. It’s wistful extensions are the only thing that combines with the piano chords in this delicate track. ‘Dead Wrong’ offers up some well put together sampling and a smooth, buoyant beat. That is where the positives end however. For the rest of the album, whilst still of the same immaculate delivery, it just seems utterly lost and aimless. Almost experimental pieces that didn’t quite work. ‘Primary’, ‘Falling’ and ‘Still Water’ are particularly bad offenders in this case. He rations his already minimal sound and takes notes and tries to stretch them on for whole verses. The lyrics and their structure are messy and aimless too. What makes these tracks standout as being poor is the quality of the first half of the album in particular. Full of energy and suspense even in the more gentle and philosophical tracks. We can only speculate from here as to why there is such a marked difference. Perhaps they were older tracks and/or he didn’t have time to fully develop a full album of Signal’s or Conrad’s stature and that is a real shame as he’s clearly a talented artist.

SOHN – Rennen =7/10

Owen Riddle 

No Age – An Object Review

I’m starting to consider being in those California tourism adverts sat next to Arnie with an unhealthily healthy smile as I have yet another Californian band to take a look at and this time it’s the turn of L.A’s No Age who have emerged with their third album. It’s suggested that they lost their way slightly with their second album and that their third effort: An Object is more back to basics relatively speaking. Their promotion for An Object has also been slightly low key too but anyone expecting a departure from their core punk sound than you should prepare yourself for a let down as that core element remains and is fused with Art Rock references to seemingly create a novel sound.

‘An Impression’ is a pretty bare and stripped back track but fills it’s space nicely with the on off bass being plucked away in the background while distorted guitars of MBV likeness wash over the bass. The steady and calm nature of the song; led by the bass allows for the guitars distortion to be used to full effect in creating a wave of sound and filling up the empty space and the vocals are more drawn out and have longer held notes themselves so the space is filled while maintaining the calm and reflectiveness of the song. ‘No Ground’ is less steady and reflective than ‘An Impression’. It’s starts off with the gentle plucking of the higher notes of the guitar until the bass fades in and the more full on guitar joins in with it to give the tune which it repeats throughout the song. The vocals too are more akin to their core sound like the instrumentals are more shouty than melodic but the whole thing just seemed like a tame event and you were waiting for the song to come to some sort of dramatic up tempo conclusion or just for a change in scenery and it never did and it sort of flat lined half way through.

‘I Won’t Be Your Generator’ has a jangling 80’s indie guitar atop a heavy bass line and this leaves much room for the vocals and other subtle synth moments which is the effect that sort of contrast can have if it’s exploited. This song does have more of a destination too. The reverb and effects on ‘Running From A Go Go’ sort of drag the melody of the song out from the instrumentals in an undignifying way but the song improves when the percussion rises above it and some structure appears and the lead guitar elements briefly shines through at the end but not often enough. On the whole there is a good standard of music here which is produced in a clever and non generic fashion, but it really seems lacking in a definitive edge. By no means do I wish for raging guitars all the time; in fact for me the best song was ‘An Impression’ which is more calm and considered. The novelty of the genres they combined was perhaps not focused on and I think several songs sort of fade in the memory a little.

No Age – An Object = 6.5/10

Images from /