XXXTENTACION Realizes Much of His Potential on Posthumous Release

In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

     XXXTENTACION needs very little introduction. He rose to some prominence as a particularly successful star of fight videos from a Florida based account but reached a massive audience with the release of of his debut single “Look At Me!” Ever the controversial figure, X nevertheless became a staple of the growing Florida rap scene, which was especially brutal subset of Soundcloud rap. After a few singles and EP’s, he released his first studio album, 17 which is often credited with starting the recent trend of albums lasting less than half an hour. His follow up, ?, was slightly longer and released with Capitol records, peaking at number one on the billboard charts. Both albums went platinum. Unfortunately, X was shot and killed in June while in Florida.

   While his previous work was nothing if not intriguing, I generally found in lacking in key areas. The heavy metal and grunge influences where glaring, and even materialized in a few heavier cuts, some of the best in his discography. In many ways, he brought experimental techniques like lo-fi production, guitar based instrumentals, and screaming, distorted vocals to the mainstream and to a youth which had never listened to artists like Death Grips, who use these elements far more effectively. With Skins, his first posthumous release, I was unsure what to expect and if I should even review the record. After listening, though, I found a mixed bag full of interesting ideas that are well worth discussing.

   The album opens with an introduction that, while a bit corny, is far more interesting than the intro on a project like 17. There’s a tinge of tongue in the cheek here, which alleviates some of the cringing that followed X’s other intros.

   After the intro, we get a few tracks back to back that are some of the best in Tentacion’s entire catalog. “Guardian Angel,” maybe my favorite track, features a twisted sample of his earlier hit, “Jocelyn Flores,” under a hard hitting verse with an excellent flow. “Train Food,” follows, telling the story of a fictional narrator’s encounter with the personification of death, an eerie topic for obvious reasons. The final monologue from the perspective of a man tied to a train track is powerful and heartfelt with a flow that radiates with influences from artists like Eminem.

   After such a great start, though, we fall back into X’s most annoying tendency, making thoughtless vibe tracks with little input aside from singing an ignorable hook. This is especially true for “woah,” which honestly sounds like a beat waiting to be rapped over. This track would’ve been far better served as an instrumental on someone else’s album, crediting X as a feature. “BAD!” Is also guilty of this, though there are some lyrics, vapid and meaningless as they may be.

   After this slump, we get another high. “STARING AT THE SKY,” though a bit overly dramatic, taps into its emo-rock inspiration in an interesting way. The explosive and distorted chorus is a nice moment, bringing his earliest work full circle and realizing its goal. The same is true for “One Minute,” which features enough of a Kanye West influence that X is more of a feature, but an excellent feature at that. Both of these tracks stand as accomplishments, the first times that he has been able to adequately accomplish his goals of incorporating metal and hard rock in a genuine and interesting way.

   The “Difference” interlude is essentially a demo that was never able to be fully realized, though it holds quite a bit of promise. Unfortunately, it’s followed by “I don’t let go,” another vibe-heavy track with minimal and ultimately meaningless rapping, this time mixed very poorly and nearly inaudible. The closer, “what are you so afraid of,” is certainly listenable, featuring a heartfelt vocal over a sweetly played guitar. It’s not my favorite sound for X, but it’s done quite a bit better than others like it.

   In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

5/10

HEAR SKINS:      https://open.spotify.com/album/1qsQOC4Jn0fnaUZLAbs4dz

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Sun Kil Moon Delivers on Aesthetic but Skimps on Substance in New Release

This Is My Dinner is a slog with very little reward for sticking it out till the end.

     Sun Kil Moon is a folk rock artist from San Francisco, California. Originating as a continuation of the defunct indie rock band, Red House Painters and sporting a long list of past members, Sun Kil Moon is now the primary moniker of Mark Kozelek, the group’s original lead singer. He’s amassed quite a discography over the past fifteen years, never reaching meaningful commercial success, but becoming a certified critical darling thanks to multiple excellent reviews. His latest record, Common as Light and Love are Red Rivers of Blood, was widely regarded as one of the best albums of 2017.

   His sound is quite unique and far from accessible. Over slow, smooth instrumentals, Kozelek rambles on, writing in a sort of stream of consciousness, touching on personal, political, and mental issues. He blurs the lines between music and spoken word poetry, rarely, if ever, breaking into choruses or hooks, and often boring more casual music listeners. On the other hand, if you listen closely, you’ll hear one of the better lyricists in modern music, writing fearlessly. Now, just a year after one of his best projects to date, Sun Kil Moon has returned with This is My Dinner, which is, in a word, disappointing.

   To start with the good, these instrumentals are very enjoyable. While mostly unassuming and often repetitive, “Linda Blair,” benefits tremendously from hectic, jazz guitar while the title track features more active drum work and a smooth melody on keys. The closer and best track on the album, “Chapter 87 of He,” is highlighted by excellent jazz sensibilities from every member of the band and features a jarring, chaotic passage in the bridge that makes the song what it is. The entire album is full of extremely listenable instrumentals, which saves the record, in many ways.

   On the vocal side, I will say that the album feels very heartfelt, particularly on “David Cassidy,” the shortest and best written song on the album, and the quick cover of “Come On Get Happy,” which follows. Even “Rock n’ Roll Singer,” which is, ostensibly, a comedy, Mark gives a good performance and the exaggerated, long notes, are absolutely hilarious.

   Two of the ten tracks come in over 13 minutes, adding to the runtime of nearly an hour. The better of the two is “Soap for Joyful Hands,” which is a short peak at what this record could’ve been. The music is simple, the story is simple, and yet every second colored with dark humor, an extended soliloquy on the value of life, and sharp anger, which is accented well by the subtle dynamics of the band.

   The other and longest of the two, “Candles,” exemplifies everything wrong with this album. While the stream of consciousness is a unique writing technique, it falls down on tracks like these, when it just has nothing to say. The story is boring, holding no metaphorical or emotional weight, the comedy is missing all the sharpness that makes Sun Kil Moon who he is, and I’m left, almost 14 minutes later, having gained nothing.

   This issue persists throughout the project as well. Tracks like the opener, “This Is Not Possible,” or “Copenhagen,” say absolutely nothing, and badly overstay their welcome. Where his earlier records strung listeners along, investing them in his mental state, only to deliver biting satire and a unique outlook, this album fails miserably and commits the fatal sin of being just plain boring. While the album had a ton of potential, especially considering it’s talented cast, it simply doesn’t deliver.

   This Is My Dinner is a slog with very little reward for sticking it out till the end.

4/10

HEAR THIS IS MY DINNER: https://open.spotify.com/album/1OCE83C2l4g7kRxTrkSfND