Hip Hop, Rap, Review

Album Review: Ronny J – OMGRonny

Ronny J is the hottest underground hip-hop producer that you’ve never heard of. Over the last few years, the Miami-based producer and rapper has crafted hits for some of the most successful new artists in hip hop, such as Denzel Curry, Rich Brian, and Lil Pump. Somewhere between the glossy and highly produced work of artists like Migos and A$AP Mob and the hard-hitting underground sounds of artists like Ho99o9 and Lil Ugly Mane, Ronny J’s new project OMGRONNY is a short burst of interesting, garage-band-quality hip hop that is certain to haunt your mind like the most effective commercial jingles.

The project lends you twelve seconds of preparation before it kicks you in the face with the distorted bass and choppy percussion that persist throughout each of the tracks. While most producers would tend to avoid muddy bass and clipped percussive samples, Ronny J uses these features to create some exceedingly interesting effects. The distortion of the bass on songs like Snakes and 824 create a depth that a regular 808 could not have matched. The percussive arrangements are fairly typical of any other hip hop project you may have heard in the past three years, but the variety of pitches and effects he uses on snare and hi hat samples makes even simple patterns stand out and complement the songs greatly. Musically, the project is consistently exciting and innovative, making sure not to shy away from being too dirty or extreme.

The project relies heavily on features; only two of the eleven tracks feature no other artists. Verses from Ski Mask the Slump God (Costa Rica, Thriller (Forever)), Denzel Curry (Houston, Glacier), and Wifisfuneral (Snakes) provide much needed structure to the bulk of the tracks on the project. Ronny J’s shortcomings as a songwriter and vocalist become fairly obvious once these features are considered. His lyrics can at times seem uninspired and repetitive and his autotune-soaked vocals fail to captivate the excitement that the tracks often call for. He fails to differentiate himself from some of his contemporaries, rapping about the expensive things he owns and the women he gets (like we haven’t heard Kodak Black say the same exact things in every song he’s released in his career).  Unlike rappers like Travis Scott or Young Thug, who use Auto-Tune to enhance their vocal performances, Ronny J seems to use it to mask his uninteresting or otherwise poorly written hooks. There are, however, several moments in which he exceeds vocally. His performances on Thriller and 824 are smooth and at least fairly interesting. Without the features from more talented vocalists, the album would not survive.

Despite Ronny J’s vocal and lyrical shortcomings, his first full length project is an example of the diversity that is present in the modern hip hop scene. He differentiates himself from other current popular hip hop producers, such as Metro Boomin and Zaytoven, with a gritty and highly intense style that is unmatched by any other. He consciously avoids the same smooth bass tone and vocal production that haunts every Migos and Post Malone track you’ve heard on the radio, instead opting to use more colorful and varied sounds that would not normally be heard in a rap beat. Ronny J’s debut project serves as a vocal introduction for the producer and a showcase of unique and hard hitting beats that will certainly be some of the most memorable of the year.

7.5/10

Best tracks : Thriller, Houston, 824

Worst tracks ; Banded Up (lmao fuck xxxtentacion)

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Hardcore, Metal, Punk, Review, Rock

Album Review: Ghost – Ceremony & Devotion

Most iconic bands have expectations. With AC/DC, you expect to see Angus Young striding across stage with his Gibson SG, hammering out heavy 3 chord bluesy heavy rock and roll. With Amon Amarth, you can expect to hear brutal moshing death metal. Ghost challenges all expectations.

Ghost formed in Linkoping, Sweden, in 2006. They consist of their front-man and vocalist Papa Emeritus, equal parts Papal and ghostly, and an assortment of masked instrumentalists, fittingly known as Nameless Ghouls. With such an image adorned with inverted crucifixes and Satanic lyrics, you would assume a band like Ghost would have the same aural onslaught of a band like Cannibal Corpse.

That is not the case. Their work has more in common with bands of the 1970’s like Dio-era Black Sabbath, and the stadium ready sound of Led Zeppelin. Their album Opus Eponymous was released in 2010, was recorded in a basement studio in the band’s hometown. Nothing about the album or sound would make you think of a debut recorded in a basement; the combination of 70’s style guitar and keyboard riffs, with Emeritus’ velveteen vocals indicate a band at their prime.

Exploring Satanic themes is nothing new to heavy metal, but never have the melodies been so damn fun. Much of their sound is like an undiscovered Satanic pop record from the back of an aging Stockholm record store, more in common with the catchy choruses of ABBA and the Beatles than the cookie monster vocals of many other “Satanic” metal acts.

With the release of their newest album, Ceremony and Devotion, it seems that Ghost has finally begun to arise to their pinnacle. The art of charismatic rock and roll front men like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler seems all but dead in 2017. Fittingly, Ghost seems to be reviving that corpse on stage every night, proving that what is once dead may come back to life.

Over the summer, the band opened for Iron Maiden on their Book of Souls worldwide tour. It’s only fitting that a band with a twenty-foot tall walking undead mascot would be accompanied by a group of masked occult rockers. Both bands have a flair for the theatrical, never shying away from exploring both the lighter and darker sides of humanity.

Ceremony and Devotion was recorded this year during the North American leg of their tour. Opening the set was Square Hammer, the relentlessly catchy opening track from the band’s second EP Popestar. (The track debuted at #1, the first time in a Swedish band topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts in the United States.) “Are you ready to swear, right here right now, before the devil?” sings Papa Emeritus at the song’s chorus, to a roar of overwhelming approval from the crowd. Next on the occult ritual’s set list is fan favorite “From the Pinnacle to the Pit”, with a monstrously swaggering bass riff.

It takes a serious degree of charm to make a ballad about a zombie queen sound so downright enjoyable. The ever charismatic Emeritus segues between songs; a smarmy, creepy, Rod Sterling-esque curator of an occult ritual you can’t help but want to join in wholeheartedly.

Across the 15 song-set, the band includes songs off all three of their studio releases, including the Ritual, and the acoustic ballad He Is. The album was mixed by Tom Dalgety, “Breakthrough Producer of the Year” for his his work on Royal Blood’s debut album. The album fittingly encapsulates everything great about Ghost’s unique sound. Every snare hit, guitar chord, and lyric comes through cleanly through the mix. A rarity on many live metal albums; you can actually hear the bass!

Even after a multitude of lineup changes over the past year, the band maintains the mystique and power of their studio sound in a live setting. Plenty of metal bands have embraced satanic themes, but none have matched the dark humor, melodies, and atmosphere of Ghost B.C. Come together and crank this album.

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Hip Hop, Review

Album Review: Cyhi The Prynce – No Dope On Sundays

Hip Hop fans had no clue what to expect when word got out that long-time Kanye West affiliate and former G.O.O.D. Music signee, Cyhi The Prynce, was finally releasing his long awaited solo debut, No Dope on Sundays. After years of displaying his lyrical dexterity with clever double entendres on several mixtapes, writing on every West album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, radio show freestyles, and of course his breakout verse on West’s So Appalled off of 2010’s Dark Fantasy. Cyhi finishes off the fourth quarter of 2017 strong with No Dope on Sundays.

Like many black Americans in the south, the Stone Mountain, Georgia native grew up in the church, and that remains a consistent theme throughout this album. He recites a Bible verse at the end of the title track which then seamlessly goes into the third song on the album, Get Yo Money. The album is jam-packed with autobiographical double entendres depicting Cyhi’s former life selling marijuana throughout his teens and 20’s, in a way that doesn’t glorify the lifestyle but are more-so cautionary tales. At the same time, he continues to bring back the recurring theme that, even on Sunday’s, no drugs were sold.

“There’s only three ways out this, shit/ Dead, jail, or get your legal hustle on/ Get Yo money and get out the game” says a recurring character throughout the album, on who Chyi speaks to on the phone– who, in a way, becomes the narrator of the album. It verbalizes, through conversation, the points that Chyi is expressing throughout the album, ones the lamen may not understand.

“I was barely seventeen, rollin with some killers that was 30 plus/ Shoulda left these niggas earlier/ But I was broke as fuck in the street I was tryna get me a burger, bruh.” Says Cyhi on Amen, the album’s intro. Autobiographical lyrics like this are what make this album. Cyhi gives context to the circumstances that can potentially lead to youth living a life of crime by humanizing these individuals with vivid stories that don’t glamorize the lifestyle but function more like cautionary tales.

No Dope on Sundays has a little bit of something for everybody. For the true hip-hop heads who appreciate wordsmiths, try Amen (Intro), the title track No Dope on Sundays (feat. Pusha T) and God Bless Your Heart. For the more casual fans songs like the lead single Dat Side (feat. Kanye West) and Looking for Love allow Cyhi to show off his crossover appeal while at the same time not sacrificing his integrity as an artist to conform to radio.

If you haven’t listened to No Dope On Sundays I suggest that you do. I consider it a top 5 rap album of last year and, although it came out a little too late to be nominated for Rap Album of the Year for the 2018 Grammy’s, I expect that nomination in 2019.

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Folk, Indie Pop, Review, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Album Review: Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights

A door creaks shut. Footsteps. A chair is dragged along the floor. Then, she starts to play. 22-year old Tennessee songwriter Julien Baker’s latest album, Turn Out The Lights​, opens with a piano, the same instrument with which she concluded her last album and solo debut, 2015’s Sprained Ankle. The closing track on that album, titled “Go Home”, ends with an extended piano ​reflection on the hymn, “In Christ Alone”, accompanied by serendipitous amplifier interference from church radio. It’s a heartwarming tune, and after that album’s emotional gauntlet, it seemed like an hopeful finish, the warming sun after rainfall.

However, this new opener on Turn Out The Lights​, which came out in October, is a bit different. It’s in a minor key, accompanied by some plaintive strings. As the instrumental progresses, you might start to anticipate something even darker than her last project… but before you can get a clear view, it shifts into a major key​ and a twinkly, finger-picked electric guitar fades in, ​ commencing the first proper song, “Appointments”. The guitar is Julien’s primary instrument, so its gentle reintroduction feels strangely triumphant. Finally, she starts to sing in that unmistakable voice of hers: sharp, crystal-clear, piercing through the moody musical fog like a lighthouse. Her voice often sounds like it might break, the starts and ends of words creaking as though emitting them physically pains her… but boy, does she know how to belt them out, too. Especially on this new album, we see Julien straining her voice to hit emotional climaxes. These are the familiar musical characters in a Julien Baker song, and for the most part, she doesn’t stray from this setup on Turn Out The Lights​. However, what sticks out on this record, and what always sticks out in her work, shows in her lyrics.

If I can be frank for a moment: From one mentally-ill young queer person to another, Julien, I hope you’re okay. The first lines we hear her sing are, “I’m staying in tonight / I won’t stop you from leaving / I know I’m not what you wanted, am I?” The songs on Turn Out The Lights​ ​ , without exception, deal with seriously dark subject matter: depression, drug abuse, broken relationships, suicidal thoughts, religious doubt, etc. For example, the title track concerns the all-too-familiar depressive thoughts that surface when you’re just trying to fall asleep. “Shadowboxing” presents the simplest, most perfect metaphor for mental illness that I’ve somehow never heard before, “Sour Breath” describes a deeply troubled relationship, and “Everything That Helps You Sleep” is Julien’s futile invocation to God for help. Now, none of this is uncharted lyrical territory for Julien. On ​Sprained Ankle, too, she tackled the ​ same topics. Julien consistently draws from a powerful juxtaposition: anthemic sadness. Through some kind of emotional alchemy, she manages to transmute something heavy, personal, and paralyzing into something unifying, something supportive, something inspiring. It’s one of the most basic artistic impulses. When I hear Julien sing these refrains, I can picture all the kids in the front row belting out her own words back at her like it’s gospel: “The harder I swim, the faster I sink.” “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right, and I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is.” “When I turn out the lights, oh, there’s no one left between myself and me.” “Well, I heard there’s a fix for everything / Then why, then why, then why / Then why not me?”

In some contexts, Julien’s lyrics can seem basic. She hardly ever uses a complicated metaphor where a simple expression would suffice. As a result, her honesty can sound hackneyed if you’re feeling cynical. Now, I should note that my first experience with Turn Out The Lights​ ​was listening to the whole album while I sat alone in my car at 2:30 AM on a school night. I can’t advocate for that approach (get 8 hours of sleep, y’all), but I will say that, given my circumstances, I was completely ready for whatever Julien had to tell me. I lost track of the moments she verbalized my own neurotic, painful inner monologues, lending them a melody, rendering them beautiful and worthwhile. On another night, I might have rolled my eyes at a line like “I miss you the way that I miss nicotine,”​ ​ but I think it’s important to get past that and see the big-picture emotional value of this album. Turn Out The Lights isn’t groundbreaking. There are more ambitious records, more depressing ​ records, more emotionally “raw” records. Furthermore, it’s not much of a musical change of pace for Julien, delving further into the same sort of songwriting, the same lyrical content, the same emotional sphere as her previous effort. However, I want to emphasize one important difference between this album and Sprained Ankle​ ​ . The last words Julien sang on ​Sprained Ankle were ​“God, I want to go home.” In the context of ​ ​ her lyrics, this is a suicide wish. “That song is about wanting to remove yourself from this plane of existence, because of overwhelming suffering,” Julien told Pitchfork in early November. It’s notable, then, that the last words Julien cries out on Turn Out The Lights​ ​ are “I take it all back, I​ change my mind, I wanted to stay, I wanted to stay.” Fundamentally, I think that’s the crux of this album. Julien may be treading the same ground she’s tread before, but here she’s moving for a different purpose. While Sprained Ankle​ ​ merely documented Julien’s despair, Turn Out The Lights ​thrives valiantly to fuel the last glimmering flames of survival. For that reason alone, it’s worth a listen. At the very least, it’s moving. And for you, perhaps, it may be necessary.

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Blues, Review, Rock

Album Review: Dan Auerbach – Waiting On A Song

Dan Auerbach is a busy man. Aside from his successful rock project The Black Keys, Auerbach created The Arcs, an impressive side project that took off during his hiatus from the Keys. His latest music project is simply himself: Dan Auerbach. Auerbach’s second album, Waiting on a Song, comes 9 years after his debut album Keep it Hid. Waiting on a Song is unique in its sound. Black Keys were bluesy, The Arcs were modern but still bluesy, and even Auerbach’s own Keep it Hid disappeared into the abyss of his other work. Waiting on a Song portrays a side unseen in Auerbach’s work before. While the majority of Auerbach’s work undertakes a dark guitar centric sound, Waiting on a Song has a southern upbeat tone with undertones of soul and funk, using violin, trumpet, acoustic guitar, clap styled percussion and other unlikely Auerbach-esque instruments.

Auerbach has been in Nashville since 2010, and it shows in his music. The album has southern rock hints comparable to that of Steely Dan, or CCR. In fact, many of the songs on the album parallel some of the greats. Auerbach mimics the likes of Al Green or Neil Young throughout the album.  In “Shine on Me” hints of John Lennon can be heard. On a similar note, Show Me” could be some variation of a George Harrison song. Originality in music is not as relevant these days, which makes the lack of it here alright; that’s not the issue with the album. The main problem with Auerbach’s album is the missing change in rhythm or pace.

“Waiting on a Song” starts off the album. A catchy and simple track about looking for that song to write, Auerbach explains the patience and process of writing music: “Songs don’t grow on trees/ You gotta pick ’em out the breeze…And pray one comes along,” stating that sometimes, and arbitrarily, the song will appear.  Creating a song is not an effortless process, so it is interesting to hear Auerbach’s unconventional perspective.

“Never in my Wildest Dreams” is the most sensitive track in the album. A soft love song about an unattainable love, Auerbach sings “I know where my purpose is/ It ain’t on some pilgrimage/ It’s wherever my baby is/ My love supreme.” The sadness in the lyrics can be heard in the slow tone mainly backed up by an acoustic guitar.

One of the lighter tracks is “Stand by My Girl”, a comical song about staying with a girl out of fear. Auerbach sings, “I’m gonna stand by my girl,/ because she’ll kill me if I don’t.” Banjo plucking in the background and tambourine shaking, the old Auerbach cannot be traced in this track.

Waiting on a Song is an album full of mostly empty lyrics. The overall simplicity of the lyrics is unfortunate and can get lost with the vague pop rock from the 70’s. Not every good artist needs to make meaningful music all the time, but it would have been nice to have seen some in this album. Regardless, the album gives off retro vibes that will provide comfort for soft rock fans. As for old fans of Auerbach or the Keys, the album is not of their regular blues sound and the new direction might be unsettling for some, but at the same time, Waiting on a Song has the potential to attract an entirely new fan base.  

Best Track: “Never in My Wildest Dreams”

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Hip Hop, Jazz, Review, RPM

Album Review: King Krule – The Ooz

Archy Marshall is royalty, but you might not know it if you haven’t heard his music. The 23 year old London based singer, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire is back with The Ooz, his second full length album under the moniker King Krule. He gets his performing name from a Donkey Kong character, but more than that it’s a great descriptor of his music. Marshall’s harsh, gritty vocals create an interesting juxtaposition with the smoother beats that accompany most tracks on the album. The record fuses elements of punk, jazz, indie, and hip-hop to create an end product that sounds like a mellowed out version of John Zorn’s Naked City.

Musically, the album is extremely consistent. Most tracks feature very tight, suppressed drums, reminiscent of J Dilla or Young Marble Giants. Marshall uses catchy guitar riffs, such as those on “The Ooz” and “Slush Puppy” in unison with spacey and subdued keyboard synths (present on most every track), building tension to create beautiful, sprawling harmonies.  The last, most important ingredient to every track is his vocals, where he ranges from soft and somber to loud and aggressive depending on the lyrical content of the song.

“The Locomotive” is an introspective slow burner where Marshall describes himself waiting at a train station, plagued by his own thoughts. On “Logos” he describes a lost relationship with a woman: “We were soup together, but now it’s cold / We were glue together, but it weren’t to hold”. On these tracks, Marshall sounds more like an orator or a poet than a singer. He deals with themes of depression and isolation in a way that’s brutally honest. The accompanying instrumentals are slower and more toned down to put more of an emphasis on his vocals.

Some of the more fast paced songs include “Dum Surfer” and “Half Man Half Shark”. Marshall’s use of native jargon and his thick, clumsy accent create a clear vision of life as a punk in London. In “Dum Surfer“, he finds himself disoriented and intoxicated in a club where he scams a “dumb surfer” out of some cash. He pukes on the pavement and takes a cab home with a girl from the club, paranoid the whole trip home that the gods are out to punish him for his misdeeds. These songs feature somewhat cynical, more snarky lyrics as opposed to the introspective lyrics of most other tracks. Contrasting the more somber tone of most others on the album, these tracks serve as great changes of pace to keep the listener on their toes.

Archy Marshall presents an album that should leave any fan of alternative music excited for the future of the genre. The project marks a maturity and precision in his lyrics and showcases deep, catchy and well produced music. True as his name suggests, Archy is the new King of jazz-rap-punk fusion, if there even was one before.  

SCORE: Ooz/10

BEST TRACKS: The Locomotive, Slush Puppy, Czech One, The Ooz, Lonely Blue

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Review, RPM

Track Review: Porches Share New Song, Music Video: “Country”

Aaron Maine’s first offering since 2016 finds Porches relying on a fresh, glowing road map.

Manhattanite Aaron Maine, known professionally as Porches, has returned with new music following 2016’s Pool, an album of moody funk and washy club-rock; both danceable and wistful. Set to be on Porches’ upcoming album, Country is accompanied by a brief, stark video shot in upstate New York, far from the crooner’s noisy digs. The song itself is a beautiful reflection of the concept, populated by plucky, synthetic strings with quick decay. Maine’s trembling words are dry and without resonance, encircled by waves of sticky organ surging peacefully beneath the spaciousness of the song. The new track also features background vocals from Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange), a frequent collaborator and Domino label-mate. This sound seemingly marks a departure from the sanitized and spooky electronics Pool- instead, Country serves as a tender, blissed-out reintroduction to the quiet insistence and sensual metaphor of Porches. Maine is no stranger to changing up his style, though- Country is just another stepping stone across a river of genres that have spanned his seven-year career, beginning at dusty, gruff, and bombastic indie-cana and ending at whatever mysterious album Maine has in store for us.  

Porches gave a performance at last year’s WMUA Spring Concert and Pool was included in WMUA’s best records of 2016.

Listen/watch the video for Country below:

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