Kamasi Washington’s Fantastic Sophomore Effort

This one took awhile to get through, but it is well worth it! Can’t recommend this album enough!

     Kamasi Washington is, inarguably, the biggest mainstream star in modern Jazz music. After finding breakout success on Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece, To Pimp A Butterfly as an instrumentalist and band leader, Washington would go on to drop his own debut, The Epic just two months later to a wash of critical acclaim and fanfare.

   The record itself clocked in at just shy of three hours, printed as a triple LP on vinyl, and  seamlessly danced from genre to genre, instrument to instrument, without ever once dragging or feeling bloated. It truly was a groundbreaking album that presented many mainstream fans with a a powerful exposure to just what is possible within the Jazz confines. This was followed by the Harmony of Difference EP, which I reviewed positively, though it was clearly a few short and ultimately unimportant buildups to one excellent track at the end. With such an impressive early discography, and a hungry cult following, Kamasi Washington had a lot to live up to. Luckily, he did that and more.

   Clocking in at around 150 minutes, Heaven and Earth is a triumphant sophomore release.  Unlike its predecessor, this album finds the time to strike and fully develop several different tones and ideas. Tracks like “Street Fighter Mas,” and my personal favorite, “The Space Travelers Lullaby” use a powerful brass section and fascinating chord progressions to give off quite the ominous feel, while songs like “Hub-Tones” are almost playful, piano-driven melodies.

   The latin-esque drumming which I criticized on the EP is back in full force, but this time much better utilized. The opener, “Fists of Fury,” as well as “Vi Lua Vi Sol,” benefit from this addition, and draw a fun danceability from the latin influence.

   Kamasi has also, now fully integrated the choir into his tool box, as it makes an appearance on almost every song. Beyond that, tracks like “Testify,” and “Journey” even feature prominent solo vocal performances which add yet another layer to such a deep record.

   Of course, no Kamasi album can be reviewed without mention of two key aspects. The first of these is Washington’s unparalleled abilities on the saxophone, which are highlighted on “Song for the Fallen” and on an unbacked solo at the end of “The Space Travelers Lullaby,” which is perhaps the highlight of the entire project.

   The second of these, is the bass guitar work of modern jazz staple, Thundercat. He turns in an especially inspired performance on “The Psalmist,” but his signature sound can be heard throughout every track.

   In addition, the drum and piano work on this album are fantastic. The drums seem to never stop, and though much less cymbal heavy than on previous Washington projects, they are no less pronounced. The final two tracks, “Show Us the Way,” and “Will You Sing” are structured around piano motifs, and the latter in particular is simply gorgeous.

   The group is at their best, however, on tracks like “Tiffakonkae” and “The Invincible Youth.” Here, Kamasi returns to his hectic roots. The tracks function like unbridled lunacy, and at first may seem quite unlistenable. But instead, the group wields the chaos, often letting it slip to silence, before building it back to an explosive resolution. The fast tempos and often clashing melodies and rhythms ultimately serve their purpose, but at first are simply overwhelming. These moments are the highlights of this album.

   There is very little to complain about here, but I must address what there is. The very few appearances made by the electric guitar are very poorly integrated. “Connections” stands out as a particularly egregious example. The lyricism is often week as well, and while this is hardly a common complaint for an album like this, it is noticeable on a few vocal parts.

   There is no question that Kamasi has done it again. Very rarely does someone begin their career with three bonafide masterpieces as he now has, and it is even more rare for such excellent and experimental Jazz to be brought so far into the mainstream. At two and a half hours, Heaven and Earth is quite a slog, but it’s an enjoyable one at that, and I can’t wait to hear what this man does next.

9/10

HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/2aBgwU4zIm1tekGzphKYp8

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Panic! Returns With an Average Sixth Record

Took me a bit longer than I would’ve liked, but here’s my review of Panic! At The Disco album, Pray for the Wicked.

     Panic! at the Disco is an emo-pop/punk band who rose to massive popularity with fans and critics in 2005 with their debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It was an album dripping in attitude and urgency, featuring excellent lyricism and instrumentation, and highlighted by the incomparable vocal talents of frontman, Brendon Urie.

   The band would go on to an excellent career which is especially notable for their putting the “Fueled by Ramen” label on the map, their many tours with fellow emo-punk band Fall Out Boy, and above all, their penchant for delivering vastly different sounds from album to album.

   As the years went on, however, members came and went between records until, finally in 2016, Urie released Death of a Bachelor under the P!ATD monicker as the sole remaining member. It was an album with a lot of potential, but wholly lacking in direction as there was no balancing force to Brendon’s manic creativity. Just two years later, Urie returns with the sixth installment in the Panic!’s storied discography.

   In many ways, Pray for the Wicked feels like a continuation of ideas which its predecessor started. Tracks like “Say Amen” and “Silver Lining” could very easily have fallen on either album, and the synth-heavy instrumentation does leave much of the track listing feeling stale.

   The most obvious take away for even the most casual of listeners is Brendon Urie’s excellent vocal performance. Throughout the album, and especially on tracks like “Roaring 20’s” and “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” Urie puts on an absolute clinic. His range is particularly impressive, and his recent stint on Broadway in Kinky Boots has brought a brand new dimension to his already very full tool box.

   The strides which are made by the great vocal work are heavily undercut, though, by the dreadfully cheesy lyricism which plagues every track. While Death of a Bachelor was criticized for overusing themes of unrepentant party lifestyles and wild nights, Pray for the Wicked gleefully digs up that dead horse and beats it eleven more times. Tracks like “High Hopes,” and “Dancing’s Not a Crime” are simply unforgivable, while “The Overpass” and “One of the Drunks” would be enjoyable if there was any joy left to be found in this writing style.

   The album, as a whole, is paced quite well. Clocking in at just under forty minutes, most of the runtime flies by, and much of the repetitiveness can be forgiven for this reason. That being said, several tracks feel completely pointless. “King of the Clouds,” and “Old Fashioned” are completely forgettable, and only “Dying in LA,” is able to rescue the latter half of the project.

   Ultimately, Pray for the Wicked is very enjoyable, and works as a musical wallpaper. However, it utterly fails to hold up to any in depth exploration, and leaves much to be desired by way of story telling in instrumentation. P!ATD is certainly standing shoulders above the recent work of their pop/punk contemporaries, but even still, this album is a mere shadow of the urgency and potential which can still be heard in the groups debut.

4/10

HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/6ApYSpXF8GxZAgBTHDzYge

Death of a Bachelor Review

As I work on my review of the new Panic! Album, I realize I reviewed their last album a few years ago when was still writing with Vernois News & has just started reviewing! Here’s my review of Death of a Bachelor!

And then there was one. It’s been ten years since four young, yet incredibly talented Las Vegan’s blew the world away and put their label, Fueled By Ramen, on the map with their first studio album: A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. On this album, Panic! At the Disco introduced us to the blend of Broadway level theatricality and somewhat Blink-182-esque post-punk rock and roll that the world had never seen. Drummer, Spencer Smith, strung together one refreshingly simple, aggressively fast rhythm after another. Guitarist, Ryan Ross, and Bassist, Jon Walker, had a palpable chemistry that flowed well to create an undeniably remarkable instrumental score. The score flees to the background, however, as Brendon Urie’s soaring vocals rush a listener back to the last time they were young and defiant. His voice is one that captures you from the first sound he makes, theatrical and enticing.

As the Band followed up with their second studio creation, Pretty. Odd., they completely redefined their sound, which would prove to be Panic!’s standard procedure. Each album stretched their styles to new and uncharted lands, but listeners always followed happily, enjoying the common thread of Urie’s emotionally charged vocals.

The Year 2011 saw the departure of Ross and Walker from the band. With half of Panic! gone, the world could only thank the young rockers for the two albums they’d given us and move on. But the Urie and Smith weren’t done yet. With their third release: Vices & Virtues, they charged on with only half of the original crew and gave us a truly inventive album. So when 2015 began with Spencer Smith’s announcement that he would be leaving the band as well, fewer people were surprised to see the year end with the release of another single from the band, this time with all writing, instrumentation and, of course, vocals, done by Brendon Urie. The singer went on to begin 2016 with the release of Panic!’s fifth project, entitled Death Of A Bachelor.

According to Urie, DOAB is somewhat of a tribute to the man he used to be, before his 2015 marriage. The album itself, however, plays less like a tribute and more like a funeral.

He opens with “Victorious,” a fast-paced pre game of sorts, declaring, with intentional naivety, the age old “tonight’s the night message” but this time with the interesting spin of a man looking back. Though Urie writes in the present tense, you can feel his reminiscence.

“Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time”, the last single before the album’s release, and “Hallelujah”, the album’s first official single, follow this opener, using lines like “If you go on, you might pass out in a drain pipe. Don’t threaten me with a good time!” and “My life started the day I got caught, under the covers with second hand lovers” to display the tone of the majority of this album to be that of reviling in one’s bad decisions. Urie uses the bulk of his time being entertained by his poor decision-making with the childlike glee of a baby smearing his first birthday cake all over his face or a young boy who jumps in a mud puddle in his new shoes. This enjoyment is a bit of a throwback to the delightfully immature defiance of Fever.

“Emperor’s New Clothes” steer’s heavily into the skid of theatricality and is the first to even vaguely hint at the recent departure of Smith, who was the original creator of P!ATD, with the line “Dynasty decapitated, you just might see a ghost tonight.” From here, Urie allows himself a slight venture into the true nature of his feelings toward growing up.

His descent into his real feelings begins with what is, in my own opinion, by far the best track on the album, after which the album is named. During an interview, the singer/songwriter said that he was aiming to blend the sounds of legendary artists like Queen and Sinatra when he created this track. Urie has always been an outspoken fan of Freddy Mercury (the band did a very popular cover of Bohemian Rhapsody) but his mention of Ole Blue Eyes is a bit out of character. However, the accomplished writer blends the two styles masterfully, while putting his own twist on it. All told, this album delights in keeping you on your toes. Around every corner, Urie packs a delightful punch to the gut. Just when you think you know what to expect, along comes a song like Crazy=Genius or Hallelujah to turn you upside down. However, for all the positive points featured on the LP, there are a few negatives.

My main criticism of the album is based on it’s lyrical substance, or lack there of. A good portion of my teen years, like many of my peers, has been sound tracked by P!ATD, so when Brendon Urie announced the concept of this album, a eulogy to his younger “bachelor” self, I was excited. One of the most skilled songwriters of my generation was poised to release his newest work and tackle the issue that I, and many Panic! Fans were finding to be heavy on their minds: growing up. Not to mention that with Urie’s recent marriage and the departure of the final original piece of his high school band, he had plenty of growing up to comment on. Sadly, aside from a few savored moments, Urie cops out. He spends his first three songs enjoying his poor lifestyle choices with similar lyrics in “Victorious”, “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time”, and “Hallelujah”. He later revisits this topic again on “LA Devotee” and “The Good, The Bad, and The Dirty.” Though each of these songs are well written, they essentially repeat themselves and cover a fairly shallow topic that could be efficiently explained with one song (preferably “Hallelujah”). “House of Memories” is the singer/songwriter’s cheesiest attempt at tackling the big issue of entering adulthood. Lines like “Baby, we built this house on memories” and “Promise me a place in your house of memories” offer the same insights that could be found on the Twitter accounts of any high school age girl. When Brendon says “Those thoughts of past lovers, they’ll always haunt me” in the bridge, the listener is left to wonder why he would randomly add in an old love story, a solid two thirds into the piece. Reading the lyrics aloud, one may wonder if Urie realizes that you can miss something other than an ex. “Crazy=Genius” and “Emperor’s New Clothes” also deal with similar issues of Brendon proclaiming his ability to effectively lead P!ATD in the right direction on his own, though Crazy speaks more to an old lover who doubted his abilities, saying “You’re just like Mike, love, but you’ll never be Brian Wilson!” while Clothes aims more to tell the fans that he is attempting to reclaim Panic!’s old prowess, wailing “I’m taking back the crown!”

Overall, the album is good. It’s not the best of Panic!’s work (which I believe is still their debut: A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out) or the worst (2013’s Too Weird to Live! Too Rare To Die!) It falls somewhere in the middle. Songs like “Hallelujah”, “Death of A Bachelor”, “Crazy=Genius”, and “Impossible Year”, are inarguable masterpieces, and should be respected as such. The chaotic and unpredictable nature of the project perfectly conveys how it feels to be inside an intensely creative mind with nothing limiting it. For the first time, Urie is let completely out of his cage and unleashed on the world and what he gave us was beautiful, though just a bit too tame. This piece may be a eulogy to the younger versions of us, but it seldom succeeds in making you cry for your loss, as it isn’t raw enough. However, Urie succeeds in solidifying the unspoken motto that has been at the heart of Panic!’s music for years: “All you sinners stand up and sing ‘Hallelujah!’”

Five Artists On The Cusp of Career Defining Albums

5. Kacey Musgraves

     Rising to popularity in 2013 with her debut record, Musgraves has drawn critical acclaim as well as mainstream success with a sound that modernizes country music, while paying due diligence to her predecessors, particularly in the outlaw movement. While some early concerns arose that Kacey may play to a base of young girls, a la Taylor Swift, and work herself out of the country scene, her often drug-laced lyricism, and insistence on organic instrumentation  and vocal work proved those worries to be unfounded. Instead, she has been hailed as a fresh new voice in the Nashville scene, and stands poised and ready for a huge run.

   This year’s Golden Hour, her third studio album, not only reached number one on the Country charts, but number four overall. She clearly has the support of the general public behind her, and the critics have always been all in. While this record was plagued by poor production and somewhat repetitive choruses, it was dripping in potential. If Kasey can fill out her songs just a bit more, and be more daring than ever in her production, while hanging on to the young charm and biting lyricism she’s built her name on, her next album could very well be a defining moment in this era of Country.

4. Harry Styles

     I know, I’m as shocked as you are! However, its time to come to terms with the facts: Harry Styles is a bonafide artist and performer, who’s debut was one of the best in 2017. The self titled LP was a breath of fresh air for music fans, and saw the pop star take on a more piano rock sound and toy with several well-executed psychedelic elements. His voice was flat out impressive, and the instrumentation was consistently entertaining. The lyrics left a bit to be desired, but the themes were solid and ambitious, leading one to expect an even better showing with the next release.

   Harry Styles debuted at number one in the US and even broke a few sales records in The UK, while critics seemed relatively impressed by the project as well. If Styles can take serious time to fill out his lyrics, especially by including a few more verses and less repetition, while hanging on to the youthful spirit and impressive vocal work which he’s already shown, his sales and critical appeal could easily place him at the forefront of a rebirth in rock music.

3. IDLES

     IDLES dropped their debut LP in 2017. It was titled, Brutalism, a name which it lived up to, as the sonic embodiment of anger, fear, and the punk spirit. The guitar work was brutal, the drums were driving, and Joe Talbot’s vocals are punk, perfected. Many could argue that Brutalism is already a career defining project, and they would be right, but I genuinely think that they could do better.

   There hasn’t been a band that is this purely punk in a very long time, and thus, IDLES will likely be given the unique license to speak on and sing about whatever they want angrily. With a new album already announced for august, I’d like to hear Talbot take deadly aim at the political discourse in the modern world. Fire wildly at organized religion, at Republicans, at inequality, and even at the apathy of the music industry. Musically, the group seems to be experimenting with brand new sounds and keeping themselves fresh. August 2018 could mark the return of punk to the mainstream.

2. Post Malone

     Again, many would say that Malone has already achieved this feat, and while Beerbongs & Bentley’s is a true masterpiece of soft, vibe-centric hip-hop, I have one simple reason to say that Post has just one or two more tricks up his sleeves. This reason can be heard near the end of the album, in the form of the song, “Stay.” Here, Malone breaks from his format, which he has, admittedly, perfected, to present listeners with an entirely unique sound. The combination of the “coffee-house” folk and hip-hop styles could very easily be the last push necessary to land Post on a very short list of great artists.

   A new album should hang on to the lighter tone of B&B, as well as the long runtime and excellent production. However, cut the bass-heavy vibe tracks with a heavy dose of heartfelt lyricism, acoustic guitar, and Malone’s unique vocal. He’s such a multifaceted writer and vocalists, pulling inspiration from so many sources, that even something as diverse as his recent project seems to waste his full range. Put that full range into one singular album, and we will have something truly special.

1. Chris Stapleton

     A man who needs little introduction, Stapleton is a fantastically accomplished singer/songwriter, and a nationally beloved member of Country’s outlaw revolution. However, a quick look at Outlaw Country’s big three-Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Stapleton- reveals a slight problem. Isbell has Southeastern, Simpson has A Sailors Guide to Earth, and what is Stapleton’s crowing achievement? Countless incredible song, and yet no “perfect,” album.

   To get himself over the final hump, he first must hang on to a few things. Namely, his powerful and jaw-dropping voice, his wife’s excellent contributions, and his penchant for staying the truest to the Country form must stay. But what is he missing? For a perfect, decade defining record, Stapleton first needs to poor his heart into his already incredible lyricism, a la Southeastern. Toss in a bit more variety in his instrumentation, a few minor tweaks in production, and beef up his runtime a bit, and Stapleton will evolve from a force to be reckoned with to a real life, living legend in every sense of the term.

HEAR KACEY MUSGRAVES: https://open.spotify.com/artist/70kkdajctXSbqSMJbQO424

HEAR HARRY STYLES: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6KImCVD70vtIoJWnq6nGn3

HEAR IDLES: https://open.spotify.com/artist/75mafsNqNE1WSEVxIKuY5C

HEAR POST MALONE: https://open.spotify.com/artist/246dkjvS1zLTtiykXe5h60

HEAR CHRIS STAPLETON: https://open.spotify.com/artist/4YLtscXsxbVgi031ovDDdh

Father John Misty Returns Barely a Year Later With Yet Another Classic

     Father John Misty, also known as Josh Tillman, has been a staple in the indie, singer/songwriter scene  since as early as 2003. For the first seven years and eight albums of his illustrious career, Tillman published music under his own name as well as two albums with Saxon Shore, before joining with Fleet Foxes for their 2011 release, Helplessness Blues. In 2012, however, Tillman took on the moniker of Father John Misty to release his Fear Fun album to success and much critical acclaim. Three years later, Misty returned with I Love You, Honeybear, which was, again, well received with a small group of followers and fans.

   His career took an important leap in 2017 with his sharp-witted, heavily conceptual opus of an album, Pure Comedy. In it, Tillman masterfully picked apart difficult topics like the human condition, American politics, technology addiction, and much more with his signature dark humor and soft rock instrumentation. The albums was a smash hit with critics and fans alike, finally bringing Josh the kind of mainstream success which he has deserved for so long, and almost in response to this, he followed up with uncharacteristic quickness, dropping God’s Favorite Customer just over a year after Pure Comedy.

   Surprisingly, God’s Favorite Customer is wholly unique in Misty’s discography. The lightheartedness which characterized much of his early work is nowhere to be found on this album. Lyrics, while holding to some of his classic wittiness, focus heavily on themes of death, mental instability, and desperation.

   This album can be very accurately described as the second half to Pure Comedy, because where it was an outward look at the absurdities of the modern wold, God’s Favorite Customer functions as the self-examination which should follow any such criticisms of the outside world.

   Tracks like my personal favorite, “Mr. Tillman,” and the title track dig deeply into Father John Misty’s psyche while still telling compelling narratives along the way. His lyrical abilities really shine here as he plays with points of view, one sided conversations, and mixes complex imagery with simple descriptions.

   Instrumentally, this album is a bit of a departure from its predecessors. While tracks like “Hangout at the Gallows,” and “Just Dumb Enough to Try” are built on familiar, orchestral swelling and piano driven melodies, the darker tone seems to have bled over into the music as the arrangement is far more bass-heavy and generally less sweet and whimsical than past projects.

   This album reaches its peak in its simplicity, though. Tracks like “Please Don’t Die,” “The Palace,” and “The Songwriter,” feature a very uncharacteristically stripped back set up. Relying mainly on rhythmic drum and piano work, these tracks serve to remind us all just what a treat we have in Tillman, truly one of the best writers in modern music, who is still in the prime of his career.

   Another highlight comes in the production. The vocal mix is simply fantastic. A quick listen to “Disappointing Diamonds are the Rarest of All,” or “Date Night,” would blow any careful listener away with the way that Tillman’s voice is stereo-imaged and doused in delay and reverb to create an almost ethereal sense about him. This plays especially well in these rare moments which feature much quicker tempos.

   If there are any complaints to be made here, there is a slight lack of catchy hooks to be found here. While I praise Misty for his ability to find unique vocal melodies which dance along half steps and often clash before resolving, this does bring with it a lack of catchiness. There isn’t much you’ll be singing around the house.

   Overall, though, this albums is simply inspired. Father John Misty pulls from a wide array of inspirations-a few obvious ones being The Beatles, Elton John, and Neil Diamond- to bring us an album that can somehow simultaneously feel removed from time, and yet so topical and relatable. The massive instrumentation pallet is played down and remains almost unnoticed, as each instrument has its part to play, and does it well. The lyricism is, predictably, fantastic, taking on dark themes and difficult topics with the delicate care and razor-tongued wit which only Josh Tillman has. Put simply, this record, like its predecessor, is not only one of the best albums of the year, but will likely be remembered as a bench-mark for this era.

9/10

HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/0hMPUtgjezv7gUsmhztvPv

Kanye West Phones it in for Ninth Studio Album

     Kanye West is a man who needs little introduction. He debuted with his “Higher Education Trilogy,” which ran from 2004 to 2007 and featured three of the most revolutionary records in rap history. The career that followed was nothing short of incredible, seeing Kanye drop a total of nine studio albums, each radically different from each other and often more than a few years ahead of his contemporaries, conceptually. Throughout Ye’s decade and a half long career, genres and rappers have come and gone, but his quality content has always been a staple in the hip-hop world. So too, has his controversy.

   From his early entry to the game amidst near constant criticism and accusations that he was softening the genre too much, to his very public beef with 50 Cent. From his infamous TIME Magazine cover to his online pleads with Mark Zuckerberg for a multi-million dollar loan, and of course his constant stage storming impulse and subsequent Taylor Swift beef. Observant fans and music lovers have developed this general rule of thumb: as soon as Kanye does something ridiculous and lands in headlines, new music is following close behind. This rule proved exceptionally prophetic when West’s vocal support for Donald Trump and ensuing disagreements with fellow musicians was followed, not only by the newest Pusha T album, on which he worked heavily, but with another album of his own, simply titled: Ye.

   This record stands out in Kanye’s discography for a few key reasons. The first of these is its length. On the whole, the seven songs come in at just under 25 minutes, meaning Ye would easily qualify as an EP rather than an LP, had he chosen to market it differently. The second difference is the lack of a theme.

   Historically, each Kanye record is meant to move in a wildly new direction. This was true, even within his debut trilogy, with each albums sounding far different than its predecessor. On Ye, however, Kanye seems even less focused than normal, finding a few interesting beats and rhyme schemes, but never really stumbling upon one unifying theme. But, there is quite a bit to enjoy.

   The opening track, “I Thought About Killing You” is one such enjoyable moment. It finds Kanye speaking freely in a sort of stream of consciousness while manipulating the pitch of his voice and finding his way to a few repeated phrases, all over a simple but spacey beat. The vocal performance is reminiscent of some of Childish Gambino’s early work, but the lyricism is much more impressive. There’s no real word play or anything on this track, but it’s interesting to hear West just say the kinds of things that people aren’t supposed to. He doesn’t try to be clever, and even jokes about how he should probably sugar coat it, but he refuses to and when he finally breaks into a more fully formed outro, he’s putting a solid finish on my favorite track of the project.

   Sadly, its all downhill from there. “Yikes” comes off like a B-side from 2016’s The Life of Pablo with a few regressive statements about women tossed in for good measure and “All Mine” is an alright track ruined by terrible lyrics and a grating, falsetto hook.

   Of course, this is followed by the worst track on the whole album, “Wouldn’t Leave.” This functions, essentially, as a public love letter to Kim Kardashian. Kanye apologizes for the apparent stress that his recent political outbursts have brought upon his wife, as well as constantly affirming that he still loves her. While the track is somewhat listenable and the runtime is mercifully short, it’s still one of the worst tracks in Kanye’s career.

   “No Mistakes” is quite enjoyable and provides a brief respite from what we’ve just heard. The lyrics are, again, cringe-worthy, but the instrumental is sweet and soulful, and the beat is worth listening to.

   The record closes with “Ghost Town” and “Violent Crimes,” both of which are quite enjoyable and show off Kanye’s production skills well. Again, the lyrics are exceptionally poor, even for West, but tracks are smooth and very listenable. The texture of the backing vocals on “Violent Crimes” is very creative, and the Nicki Minaj feature is even worked in quite well, considering her usual ability to ruin any song she touches.

   Overall, Ye is undoubtedly the worst project in a long career, but its not completely without merit. A few of the tracks will certainly find their way into public favor, and the album as a whole sounds like seven very solid demo’s for a new, full length Kanye West LP. Sadly, this record needed at least another year worth of work, filling out the runtime, finding central lyrical and musical themes, and just generally improving the quality of the whole project. Instead, we were given an unfinished and uneventful half hour of music, which does little to excuse his recent erraticism and will likely be remembered as the first, and hopefully only blemish on an otherwise legendary career.

4/10

HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/5EBGCvO6upi3GNknMVe9x9

Richard Edwards Releases Excellent Sophomore Project

     Richard Edwards has one of the most fascinating career trajectories in modern music. Getting his start in 2005 with Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s, Edwards was immediately the front man of an indie darling of a band. The group would go on to release seven records, ending with my personal favorite, “Tell Me More About Evil” in 2014. The also released a massive box set of B sides and live recordings in 2015 which sold well.

   Edwards, however, had gone off the grid. Aside from a few posts on his social media pages, the once charismatic leader of the soft rock outfit had all but disappeared. This changed, of course, in late 2016,  when he made a massive announcement through his Instagram page. Fans first learned that Edwards had been suffering from a debilitating stomach issue, and thus had been rendered unable to perform, or even leave his home for almost the entire three years.

   More importantly, though, he announced that he would release his first ever solo project in the March of 2017, leaving fans scratching heads as to how his sound would vary without the larger group. Luckily, 2017’s Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset was one of the best albums of the year, boasting a successful critical reception with the added bonus of excellent sells to fans. He went on to give a moving performance at the Gas, Feed, & Seed festival in Iowa as well as several excellent showings on various radio and tv in order to promote LCSS as well as another mystery record which would “Probably be out soon.” That record was Verdugo and it was worth the wait.

   The lyricism is, as one would expect, on full display here. Edwards has become infamous for his ability to write lyrics which may not tell a full story on paper, but that allow listeners to feel the emotions which Edwards himself must’ve felt while writing them. Tracks like “Howlin’ Heart” and “Something Wicked,” are masterpieces in this form of emotional writing.

Verdugo-Extra

   Sonically, highlights include “Minefield,” “Beekeeper,” and “A Woman Who Can’t Say No.” On each of these, as well as throughout the entire track list, Richard pulls from a myriad of genre’s and an obviously extensive knowledge of music to create one of the most eclectic collections of songs I’ve ever heard. The instrumentation is able to capture the sparse acoustic focusses of singer/songwriter music, while still finding time for overwhelming orchestral swells and vocal phrasing which bounces from obvious country influences to even pop and R&B.

   While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the vocal performance. He showcases the abilities of his full-bodied, chest voice on the opener, “Gene” while bringing out his wispy falsetto towards the end on “Strange.” Throughout, there is so much emotion in his voice that listeners can really feel every ounce of pain, victory, and reminiscence which coats this album.

   Even the production is impressive. While the more subtle examples can be found in each track by listening to the guitar work and endless, excellent vocal mixes. There are, however, a few more obvious examples of producer, Bob Schnapf’s abilities exist in his massive changes to “Pornographic Teens” from its single version, or even on the short but spacey, “Tornado Dreams” interlude.

   Above all, my favorite track is “Olive Oil,” as it perfectly incapsulates everything that is so amazing about this album. The lyrics are beautiful and emotional, Edwards’ vocal is varied, but always at the forefront. That is, until a fantastic acoustic guitar solo which makes up the bridge. The track even ends well, making it the best track on an already great record.

   In the end, this album checks every box for me. The writing is amazing, its aesthetically consistent and pleasing, and everyone involved really gave it their all. From the smallest bit of production to Edwards’ leading role and everything in between, this album is just incredible. Then again, I never expected anything less.

9/10

HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/0ucWpdhnWdKLMgRYmzWCty