Lil Nas X’s Debut EP Is a Fun and Unique Listen

7 is a fun listen which, while it won’t be winning any awards, is certainly a must-listen for fans of the young, genre bending front man.

Lil Nas X is a hip-hop/rap artist from Atlanta, Georgia. He was almost entirely obscure before the release of his debut single, “Old Town Road,” in December of 2018, which catapulted him to the very top of the music world. The track topped the Billboard Hot 100 and was eying the top of the country charts before Billboard chose, in a relatively controversial decision, that the track would no longer be listed as country because of its “musical composition.” Regardless, the single has topped the charts in at least seven countries including the US and is certified as triple platinum at the time of this review. Now, with the world watching, the 20 year old artist is attempting to bring his genre bending style to a longer form with his first studio EP, 7.

The project opens and closes with Lil Nas X’s titular smash hit, “Old Town Road.” The recent remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus opens the album and it’s far better than the original, aided  by its placement on this album. There isn’t much left to be said about this track that hasn’t been said already, but it is worth pointing out that this is one of the most genuinely fun tracks I’ve heard in years. Every element is relatively simple, and combining trap and country is far from a brand new idea, but every attempt thus far has felt like a cynical cash grab. Lil Nas X is the first artist who’s attempt at this sound feels genuine, and I do believe that to be the key factor in this song’s success.

“Panini,” follows and as this EP’s second official single, it’s quite a track in its own right. Once again, Lil Nas X isn’t reinventing the wheel, but he does have a handful of interestingly diverse inspirations which find their way into the finish product. Probably the most obvious example is the chorus hook on this track which is a direct allusion to Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” All told, the track isn’t nearly as groundbreaking as that which proceeds it, but its another feel good cut that will have listeners dancing even after repeated listens.

The next track is “F9mily,” and it’s here where we start to see some of the cracks in Lil Nas X’s abilities. He’s aiming to put his own spin on the kind of bright, garage rock that has been popular for the past several years, but he falls short in almost every way. The instrumental is rather bland and aside from some nice choral background vocals, offers very little of substance. Even worse, though, is Lil Nas X’s vocals which are just sleepy and boring, completely failing to live up to the energy brought by the instrumentation. Ultimately, it’s just a misstep and it’s easily the worst track on the EP.

“Kick It,” is up next, and he starts to bring the project back on the rails fairly quickly. The instrumental is still a bit weak and none of the bars are particularly impressive, but the horns are a nice addition to the instrumental pallet and and it does feature a handful of fairly funny lyrical moments.

“Rodeo,” sees a return to the country rap stylings which brought him to prominence and it’s probably one of the best tracks on the project. It’s lyrically hilarious, the guitar riff at the center of the instrumental is fantastic, and the Cardi B feature near the end works far better than it has any right to. The song is certainly no “Old Town Road,” and I respect X’s decision not to fill the EP with country/rap mashes like this, but I must say that I enjoyed this cut quite a bit.

Unfortunately, “Bring U Down,” derails the record a bit once again. The guitar solo is enjoyable and quite unexpected, and the bass guitar riff that guides the track is fairly catchy. I don’t even mind the simplistic lyrics, but again, X just doesn’t have the energy in his voice that’s needed to carry an upbeat rock tune like this. His lethargic lead holds this album back in a quite a few places.

“C7osure,” is the final track on the EP, ignoring the gratuitous reappearance of “Old Town Road,” and it’s relatively inoffensive. This is definitely the most forgettable track on the project and could have been left off without complaint, but there are a few bright moments, most notably the layered vocals on the chorus and the intriguing piano sample.

All together, I must say the Lil Nas X has been fairly successful in staving off accusations of being a “one hit wonder,” with this EP. There aren’t all that many complex elements to the EP, but he is breaking new ground in the sense that he combines the auto-crooning, trap style with country, rock, and a few other smaller inspirations in a way that feels far more genuine and listenable than other acts who have the same aim.

7 is a fun listen which, while it won’t be winning any awards, is certainly a must-listen for fans of the young, genre bending front man.

4/5

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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Miley Cyrus Drops Yet Another Directionless, Hot Mess

SHE IS COMING is a half-baked, hot mess that is fluctuates between boringly safe and confoundingly awful.

Miley Cyrus is country/pop singer from Nashville, Tennessee. She rose to massive fame as the most prominent figure in Disney’s mid-2000’s class of musical stars. Under the Hannah Montana moniker, she released five LPs full of relatively inoffensive pop music alongside three fairly similar releases under the Miley Cyrus name. Having released five albums by the age of 18, Miley seemed to feel a bit boxed in as the character she’d played on Disney Channel. She quite admirably broke this box with her 2013, triple platinum album, Bangerz, which was vulgar and daring, if a bit meandering. This was followed by the horrendously bloated Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz which received a limited release and her much tamer, full scale follow up, Younger Now in 2017. While Miley’s recent work has been commendable in its effort to push boundaries and change her public image, it’s largely felt aimless and thoughtless and virtually never takes advantage of her genuinely impressive vocal abilities. SHE IS COMING is no exception.

The EP opens with “Mother’s Daughter,” which is perhaps the only listenable cut on the tracklist. The trap drums play quite well against the spacey, piano-driven instrumental and Miley’s vocal performance is actually quite strong. The vocal tuning is entirely over the top and the lyrics are atrocious, but the hook is somewhat singable and Miley seems closer to a middle ground between her pop sensibilities and edgy desires than she has in the past.

“Unholy,” follows and a few of the issues with this project start to become apparent fairly quickly. The change in producers from track to track robs it of any possible coherence and Miley’s breathy, hissing vocal is extremely overproduced. The trap drums entirely overpower every melodic element, though none of them are interesting enough to warrant being pushed to the front of the mix. Worst of all, the lyrics on this cut are just awful, and the entire song sounds completely half baked, as does much of the EP.

“D.R.E.A.M.,” falls in the middle of the project and is one of the most disjointed messes of a song I’ve ever heard. While the chorus is admittedly catchy, Miley’s voice is once again breathy and overproduced as she sings over a hokey piano line which could fit comfortably on a High School Musical soundtrack. The only possible saving grace for the track would seem to be the feature from Wu-Tang alum, Ghostface Killah, but instead he phones in a short, unrelated verse on a completely different instrumental which only takes up that 20 or so seconds.

“Cattitude,” is the forth track on the EP and an absolute dumpster fire in musical form. Every single element, from the bizarre and endless RuPaul feature, to Miley’s embarrassing attempt at rapping on the verses, to the horribly vulgar lyrics is simply unlistenable. I can’t fathom how anyone let this song leave the studio’s doors but luckily for the listeners, it seams to be the rock bottom for the record.

“Party Up The Street,” sees Mike Will Made-It taking over production duties for the only well produced song on the tracklist. Swae Lee’s feature is flat throughout the entire track and the instrumentation is boring and uninventive, but a few of the melodies are genuinely well-written and it seems to be the only cut that anyone actually cared about. It serves as a welcome switch up from the aggressively terrible tracks that precede it.

The project closes with “The Most,” which is fairly inoffensive, though it offers little by way of intriguing ideas. The chorus is fairly well-written and features some of the only passible lyrics on the EP and Miley finally gives an impressive vocal performance, which has been lacking from every song thus far. That being said, its still quite overproduced and uninventive and features an irritatingly nondescript synth lead covering the majority of the melody.

Ultimately, this EP is a mess. It somehow finds a way to feel lazy and half-baked yet overproduced and soulless at the same time. Miley’s recent career has been full of spinning wheels without a track, but SHE IS COMING is the worst in this regard. I don’t see any audience for this or even a reason for it to exist.

SHE IS COMING is a half-baked, hot mess that is fluctuates between boringly safe and confoundingly awful.

1/5

Veronica Stanton Debuts With Catchy and Heartfelt EP

827 Miles is an incredibly listenable debut which has me excited to cover many more releases from Veronica Stanton.

Veronica Stanton is a country singer/songwriter from Jenkintown, PA and based in Nashville, TN. She got her start in local shows performing with a family band and learned sing and play music at home. She stepped out into more solo work in high school and began to pursue songwriting in earnest in college. After graduating, she came to Nashville and began playing the circuit of writers rounds before starting to work with producer Dan Knobler. Now, she’s released her debut EP, 827 Miles, named for the distance from her hometown to Nashville.

The project opens with the title track and immediately, much of what makes this EP special is present. Veronica’s sweet, bright vocal is easily the highlight of the cut, made all the better by some clever and well-written lyrics. Her rhyme schemes create instant earworms that demand a second listen and, thanks to nice, clean production, the her personality bubbles through every line. Songs that focus on missing home are also less prominent than they once were and it’s nice to hear the topic addressed so well once again.

“Flying,” follows and quickly, the strong instrumentation begins to shine through. Anthony DaCosta helms the electric guitar, which he did quite well on Joy Williams’ album which I covered earlier this week. His gentle touch and ear for melody are invaluable to this cut and many after. Beyond this, the verse-centric structure with a two bar chorus is unique and Stanton confidently channels shades of Dolly Parton in her soft but solid delivery. It’s yet another track which seems to demand a second listen.

“Wildflower,” falls perfectly in the middle of the five tracks and fills this position incredibly well. It’s far more lighthearted, lyrically, and the vocal melody on the chorus is nothing short of fantastic. Dan Knobler’s production is almost a sugar rush of bright guitars and a well placed organ that creates a beautifully shimmering piece of pop-country. As if this wasn’t enough, Veronica proves the legitimacy of her old school aesthetic with an awesome key change in the final third that perfectly closes out the funnest track on the project.

As “Rome,” rolls around, the organ takes the front seat, as do the drums for the first time. The changes quickly set the song apart from previous entries, but the great vocals, fun lyrics, and melodic lead guitar is no less present. In fact, the chorus may be the best of the EP and Stanton’s falsettos are an interesting touch which I wish had better utilized on each track. Overall, while “Rome,” doesn’t jump out the way earlier cuts do, it’s certainly one of the strongest of the bunch.

“Won’t Be Back Soon,” brings the project to a close and the roaring electric guitar on the intro quickly establishes the track’s irreverence. This is easily the lyrical highlight of the album as she turns the classic trope of promising a quick return to home on its head by pointing out that, for her to come back would mean failure in her dreams. The brilliant touch of storytelling is just icing on the cake of one more fantastic instrumental, complete with a rocking organ solo. “Won’t Be Back Soon,” is a perfect closer and brings the theme of the EP full circle.

Ultimately, I’m left without much to complain about. Each track is perfectly paced, well mixed, and well written. The theme is cohesive but not overbearing and Veronica’s voice is wonderfully at home in this modernized version of golden age, women’s country.

827 Miles is an incredibly listenable debut which has me excited to cover many more releases from Veronica Stanton.

5/5

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Young Socrates Drops Heady, Experimental Debut EP

Kill the Gods isn’t perfect, but it’s quite fascinating and a strong first entry to the Young Socrates catalog.

Young Socrates is a 20-year-old alternative hip-hop artist, producer and mixing engineer From Lagos, Nigeria and based in Murfreesboro, TN. He’s made something of a name for himself with a series of Soundcloud releases over the last year. He’s notable for heavily industrial production, an experimental mixing style, and lyrics with heavy philosophical and absurdist themes. Following some success from lead singles, Kill the Gods was released last week and it’s quite an experience.

The record opens with what is perhaps my favorite cut, “Slow Victim.” The instrumental intro clocks in just under two minutes, but captures a fascinating style in such a short time. The repetitive percussion and electronic sound pallet is immediately gripping, and the continued additions of layer after layer build to a cacophonous fever pitch. The track is at once fascinating, yet alienating, and it sets a strong tone for the rest of the project.

The title track follows with a slightly softer pallet and introduces Socrates’ vocals quite well. The odd time signature and lack of overall structure makes the track fairly unpredictable, and the short runtime insures that the listener never does quite catch up. That being said, the lyrics are introspective and draw an interesting and quite informed link to the work of Absurdist legend Albert Camus by treating the mundanity of everyday as a hell in of itself.

“The Light,” begins with a uniquely organic sound, featuring an intriguing bass riff and a soft, but somewhat lifeless piano lead. The vocal performance is a bit hard to grasp, but tonally, it works quite well. The soulless, almost 8-bit sound effects which perform the hook are an excellent touch, and it’s this blend of the recognizable and comforting with the lifeless and at times disorienting which characterizes what is so impressive about this project.

The EP’s most popular single, “Devil in the Streets,” falls fourth, and it’s a much more straightforward cut than previous tracks. Lyrically, this is clear and away the highlight of tracklist, with Socrates’ biting critique of religion coming through in every line, though cut with a healthy dose of absurdism in its refusal to provide serious solutions. The percussion is also at its best here, with a sharp snare slicing the mix in half during the verse. These qualities combined with yet another odd structure and short runtime make for one of the best tracks on the record.

“Old Jargon,” is the closer and by far the longest cut in the list. Because of this, the lyrics are far more sprawling and, while a bit unfocused, center on the same themes of religious criticism and Absurdism. The instrumental gets a bit repetitive, but the synths are well performed and abrasive guitar lines are excellent. Ultimately, it’s a strong finish to an excellent project.

All my praise of this EP notwithstanding, I am left with a few minor criticisms. A few of the instrumentals, while well mixed and produced, could use more variety. If each track had carried the intensity of the opener, or explored some more adventurous sonic ideas, this could’ve been solved. Additionally, Socrates’ flow could do with a bit more range. Though his rhyme schemes are impressive and entertaining, the lack of unique delivery on each track masks a lot of the work that went into the lyricism.

Ultimately, however, Kill the Gods is fantastic! Lyrically, the intentional and well written inclusion of heavily philosophical themes is quite an accomplishment, made all the more noticeable by a perfectly cohesive tone in each track. It’s well written, daring, and often bewildering upon the first few listens.

Kill the Gods isn’t perfect, but it’s quite fascinating and a strong first entry to the Young Socrates catalog.

4/5

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Pink Sweat$ Brings a Minimalist Take to R&B

Pink Sweats’ second EP, Volume 2, is intimate, well performed, and hopeful just a taste of excellent work to come.

Pink Sweats is a soul/R&B artist from Philadelphia. He debuted last year with his Volume 1 EP released on Human Re Sources Records. The project came from nowhere and caught fire after the smash success of the single, “Honestly,” which peaked at number 10 on Spotify. Sweats brings a unique brand of minimalistic, guitar driven R&B which is a refreshingly intimate flavor of the growing and fantastic scene, which tends toward the more luscious mixes. Now, just a few months later, he’s followed up with Volume 2.

The EP opens with “I Know,” which begins with an excellent, almost guitar riff ripped straight from the pages of the outlaw country songbook. When Pink’s vocals drop in, it’s a bit of a jarring change, but the groove of the track is immediately disarming. With a fantastic vocal performance, great guitar work, and very well used trap drums, this is easily the strongest cut on the list.

“Coke & Henny Pt. 1,” follows and it’s nearly as impressive. The percussion mixes in well placed vocal hisses and snaps that slice the mix in half. The acoustic guitar is perhaps the highlight as it never stops working, carrying the melody across the entire track. Overall, when listening to this track, I was most impressed by the wide array of influences as elements of artists like Kanye and Michael Jackson were extremely apparent.

Naturally, “Coke & Henny Pt. 2,” is next and this cut runs much more along the lines of a more by the numbers modern R&B track. This isn’t a bad thing in all respects. The vocal melody is excellent with a fantastic hook in the chorus, the dreamy production is a nice change up from Pt. 1, and the guitar work is, again, great. However, on a track like this, the minimalist style fails to capture much of what Pink Sweats is going for, and a more luscious pallet would be much appreciated from this point forward.

“Your Side,” while not the strongest track on the list, is an absolute blast. The many layers of delay and ambitious stereo image on the vocals makes Sweats feel almost larger than life and the staccato, acoustic guitar makes a great anchor. The lyrics leave a bit to be desired, but the upbeat groove and energetic lead vocals make up for this in spades. It certainly functions as a return to form from the preceding track as the minimalism is utilized quite well and makes for yet another enjoyable song.

“Body Ain’t Me,” closes this project out and it’s one of my favorites. As usual, the guitar sounds great and the production is tight. The record pops in the background are a bit frustrating, but I find them fairly easy to ignore. The real highlight of the cut is Pink Sweats’ vocals. He seems to sing with something to prove and whatever it was, he proved it. He’s tender and relatable on the verses, almost sleepy in a few low parts, and packs a surprisingly powerful punch in the chorus. Ultimately, it’s a great closer to yet another great EP.

All in all, Volume 2 is a success by virtually any measure. I don’t know that there’s a hit on the level of “Honesty,” but instead, we’re treated to five strong tracks, one after another, each unique and each building on the successes of its predecessor. The record leaves me content with another strong outing and most of all, it leaves me excited for a full length release.

Pink Sweats’ second EP, Volume 2, is intimate, well performed, and hopeful just a taste of excellent work to come.

4/5

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

The Bouncing Souls Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary with Fun EP3

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

The Bouncing Souls are a punk rock band from New Brunswick, New Jersey. They debuted in 1994 with The Good, The Bad, and the Argyle, and went on to release four albums throughout the 90’s, each finding some level of underground success. Though their catalog lacks any real mainstream hits, it does show every sign of a hard working, old school punk act with 10 studio albums and 15 EPs since their formation in 1989. After beginning with Chunksaah Records, they left to work with Epitaph for the majority of their output in the 2000’s but they’ve recently returned to Chunksaah for their most recent projects including 2016’s Simplicity, which is one of their best selling albums to date. With their 30th anniversary approaching, they’re adding to their extensive catalog with Crucial Moments.

The EP opens with the high energy title track which kicks off the tracklist in style. It’s essentially a straight forward, pop-punk cut driven by Greg Attonito’s impressively clean vocal. The drum fills are fast and exciting and lead guitar is extremely well played. The pulled back bridge, though quite cliche’d, is enjoyable and the crisp production makes for quite the opener, overall.

“1989” is a much more true blue punk track, all the way down to the terse, 90 second runtime. Instrumentally, there’s no dip in quality to be heard and, in fact, there is the improvement of a very well played bass line on the bridge and an entertaining guitar solo. Unfortunately, Greg’s vocals lack the grit needed to pull off this sound, and the song is at it’s best when he returns to his melodic style near the end. Additionally, the structure of this track is just awkward and it leaves quite a bit to be desired, ultimately.

“Favorite Everything,” follows, driven especially by an ear-worm guitar lead. Lyrically, its a fun love song full of quirky platitudes which are performed quite convincingly. Beyond this, the drums are, once again, excellent, aided by a great rhythm in general. The track’s biggest weak points are the transitions between sections. Choruses just seem to start and end with no noticeable change beyond lyrics, and the track as a whole bleeds together a bit by the end.

“Here’s To Us,” on the other hand, is easily the strongest showing on the project. The instrumental is explosive and Attonito’s vocals are his best thus far. The melody on the chorus is fantastically well written, though the lyrics are a bit juvenile, admittedly. It ends with a soaring guitar solo directly into an exciting passage of doubled vocals. It’s exactly the sound you want to hear out of this band and it’s delivered better here than anywhere else.

The band returns to the traditional punk sound again with “4th Avenue Sunrise,” this time with much better results. Greg defaults to a more charismatic, blues-tinged vocal style which fits the song much better and more importantly, this cut doesn’t feel nearly as incomplete. Each idea is presented and fully fleshed out while the high tempo retains the quick impact they’re going for.

“Home,” closes the album and it’s a relatively enjoyable finish. It features yet another excellent chorus which is very well performed by Attonito. The crunching lead guitars are pure pop-punk and explosive drumming brings the choruses to a head in a very satisfying way. Overall, it’s one of the stronger cuts on the project, not the least of which because of the very strong songwriting.

Ultimately, this is a fun collection of songs, though it’s lacking in more than a few areas. There’s really not a single track that isn’t enjoyable in some way or another. The tracklist is very well paced and the production is slick but full of life.

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

3/5

Hear the EP

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LSD Supergroup Drops Fun but Shallow EP

No New Friends is a fun, danceable EP, though it falls well short of its potential.

LSD is a recently formed supergroup featuring Australian pop star Sia, American DJ Diplo, and British singer/rapper Labyrinth. Each member has had quite the career in of themselves. Sia is perhaps best known in the US for her smash hit single, “Chandelier,” but she has eight studio albums, one of which is certified platinum, and she’s a highly respected pop vocalist, known for her powerful belting voice. Diplo is one of the most prolific producers of the modern era, having worked with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber, Lil Pump, and many more. He’s best known for his work with hip-hop and pop artists, and he boasts a handful of Grammy awards and platinum singles. Labyrinth may be the least known of the trio as most of his work is done as a producer and cowriter with artists like Eminem, XXXTentacion, and Ed Sheeran. He does have one solo LP to himself, but he’s best known for his work behind the scenes as a well respected writer and producer. Each of these three artists have had quite a bit of success on their own, and now they’ve joined forces for their first EP, No New Friends.

The record opens with the very fun and danceable title track which at once seems to lay bare every success and shortcoming we can expect on the the rest of the project. Sia gives a strong vocal performance and the chorus features a great hook. My main gripe, however, comes on the instrumental. Diplo’s efforts on this track leave much to be desired in terms of depth, as the track is relatively inoffensive, but very noticeably lacks the depth and lusciousness I would expect from such a team.

“Genius – Lil Wayne Remix,” follows and this is the trio’s debut single, updated with a verse from Lil Wayne that adds quite a bit. I can’t say I enjoyed it quite as much as the original version, which appears later on the project, but Wayne gives a typically energetic verse and Sia once again sounds great on the chorus.

“Mountains,” on the other hand, is easily the weakest of the six songs. Here, not only is the instrumental once again shallow and uninventive, but many of the synths that decorate the melodic hook are just abrasive and irritating. The chorus is certainly enjoyable, but without a strong vocal performance from either Sia or Labyrinth, Diplo’s production is just left to flounder as the main attraction.

This is followed, however, by my favorite track, “Thunderclouds.” Here, we’re treated to two excellent vocal leads, predictably in Sia’s commanding first verse, but also in a surprisingly soulful effort from Labyrinth on the second. It’s one of the most singable and endearing cuts here, and the value of the two strong lead singers and their chemistry can’t be overstated.

“Audio,” is yet another misstep and yet again, it really boils down to whether Sia takes a place front and center on track. In this case, she doesn’t, and we’re left with another fairly shallow instrumental with a somewhat catchy chorus. Most of this project is still fun and danceable, but it doesn’t nearly reach the levels it could’ve had Diplo taken the time to fill out the sonic image and get inventive with the instrumental pallet. Driving, nondescript synths over vaguely interesting drum loops can only go so far.

“Genius,” closes the EP and while I question why this track was even included as it had already been released previously and a remix of the same track appears earlier on the project, it does make for an entertaining closer. Labyrinth gives another excellent verse and Sia is, of course, fantastic. The instrumental is actually somewhat interesting, especially the inclusion of heavily processed violins and the grooving beat. It’s not the best cut on the list, but it’s a strong closer.

All told, No New Friends is admittedly a bit disappointing. With three extremely talented artists joining forces for such a short project once would expect a tightly packed collection of hits, but that’s simply not what was created. That being said much of the project is still fairly enjoyable.

No New Friends is a fun, danceable EP, though it falls well short of its potential.

3/5

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB