Miley Cyrus - Bangerz
Shout out to Annie.
I have to say, I like Bangerz more than I thought I would. Although I loved the first single, “We Can’t Stop”, Miley’s antics on stage were getting to be a little too much for me. When an artist acts out like that, they usually do it to promote an album that’s not all that good. Following the release of the “Wrecking Ball” video, my beliefs were only made stronger.
It wasn’t until I read the production credits of Bangerz that I finally gave in to giving the album a spin. One of 2013’s MVPs behind the boards, Mike Will Made It, produced the majority of the album, and this album contains some of his best work. After all he’s done for hip-hop in 2012-13, I don’t even mind his audio tag in the beginning of his tracks anymore. Contrarily, I’d say that it gets me hyped up.
And as I imagined it to be, the production on Bangerz is awesome. Miley combines her pop sensibilities with Mike Will’s pop/trap sounds. It works well, partly because trap music surprisingly owe a lot to bubble-gum pop. Apart from the overly country “4x4” featuring the least relevant artist in 2013, Nelly, the production is a definitely highlight of the album as a whole.
Miley Cyrus’ singing is vastly underrated, and for a 21 year old, she can belt out power ballads with impunity. “Wrecking Ball” is definitely the highlight. When you listen to the song without the music video accompanying it, you’ll be able to see the merits of the track. The unfortunately titled “#GETITRIGHT” also shows off Miley’s great voice. I found myself surprised at how well Miley stood up next to the eerie synths and big bass of Mike Mill Made It. Good job Miley. You can sing and you should continue singing. As you so put it, “forget the haters, ‘cause somebody loves ‘ya”.
Surprisingly, Britney Spears is the best guest present on Bangerz. Everyone else seems somewhat out of place. Future (who was an obvious pick due to his experience with Mike Will Made it) is relegated to a hook role when he could have done so much more. Big Sean spits his usual goofy, unnecessary verse and does his thing on one of the album’s highlights, “Love Money Party”. “FU” has the shitty role of showing the world how bad French Montana’s auto-tuned singing really can be.
But now, we have to talk about how bad the writing is in this album. But honestly, do we really? Did we expect good lyrics? No. Let’s not talk about it then. I’m in a good-ass mood and I don’t want to criticize something that was pretty much a given right off the bat. The writing’s bad, okay? Okay.
The sequencing of the album is also a little off-putting. The way the songs are arranged don’t make any particular sense to me. There wasn’t a specific vision for the direction of the album, and anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention can see that. Yeezus himself declared that Miley Cyrus is one of the most talented artists in music right now, and after Bangerz, I can kind of (sort of) see where he’s coming from. She just doesn’t have that extra oomph you need to declare herself legendary.
MGMT - MGMT
MGMT has followed a strange career path. After releasing the quite spectacular Oracular Spectacular in 2007, they decided to go for a less conventional route for their second album, Congratulations. Their debut was full of catchy hits like “Electric Feel” and “Kids”, but what made MGMT stand out was the fact that these songs never compromised the band’s willingness to experiment with different sounds. MGMT seemed to have found the formula to making indie playable on the radio. Congratulations, on the other hand, never had anything close to a smash hit. The album itself was more difficult to process and the lyrics were much more abstract. I didn’t hate Congratulations – I just thought it was different. And I’m of the opinion that when a band gives me great music, they have the “right” to experiment and develop their sound. “Brian Eno” is an awesome song, by the way. It’s one of my all-time favourites from MGMT. Not all experimentations turn out great, but every band should be able to play around every once in a while.
The band’s third album, MGMT, however, is taking it a little too far. I need songs that I can blast in my car and sing along to every once in a while. But MGMT is much more experimental and “noisy” than Congratulations ever was. Listening to the album, I found myself often confused as to what the band was trying to convey through its music. It sounds okay sometimes, but I just didn’t see what the point was to the madness that I was hearing. Animal Collective, for example, make noisy music, but at the end of the day, I know what they’re trying to achieve with their music. At this point, I get the feeling that MGMT’s being weird just for the sake of being weird. It works on some songs like “Alien Days” where you can pick up chord progressions and melodies every once in a while, but the album in its entirety comes off as a huge missed opportunity.
I don’t feel like giving this album a grade since, honestly, I didn’t “understand” it. Hopefully, you did.
Drake - Nothing Was the Same
“Started from the bottom, now we here”
Drake’s third album, Nothing Was the Same, is a story of natural progression. It’s Drake letting us know where he is in his life right now, and by the sound of it, he’s doing pretty damn well. He sounds less defeated, heartbroken, and angst-y than he did during his last album, Take Care. Instead, he sounds like he’s finally adjusted to fame and more importantly, he’s more comfortable being who he is.
Not that he’s stopped airing out his dirty laundry. Songs like “Too Much” and “From Time” tell excruciatingly personal stories that Drake’s friends and family might not be comfortable with. But, by 2013, you should be used to this by now. By 2013, Drake knows that’s he’s the shit, and he’s reminding all of us in the most spectacular of ways. On the phenomenal album opener, “Tuscan Leather”, he raps, “this is nothin’ for the radio, but they’ll still play it though / ‘Cause that’s the new Drizzy Drake, that’s just the way it go”. That level of confidence is refreshing to hear from a Jewish, Canadian, half-black child actor in the rap game. Who would have figured 10 years ago?
“MUHFUCKAHS NEVA LUH’D US”
Sonically, 2013 Drake is just a better version of 2011 Drake. His rhymes, as well as his singing, has seen a noticeable improvement since his sophomore effort. Just compare his singing on “Marvin’s Room” with his singing on “Hold On, We’re Going Home”. He sings with more confidence. The production isn’t anything we haven’t heard before, but it’s much denser and layered this time around. Drake’s also taken to letting different producers work on his album on Nothing Was the Same. In the credits, you’ll find names like Hudson Mohawke, Detail, and Jake One. Drake’s right hand man, 40, is still on the boards, and he’s showing signs of stretching past his signature sound. God forbid, people might start getting tired of hearing more of the same Drake.
“How much time is this nigga spendin’ on the intro?”
One of the best things Drake did in Nothing Was the Same going for a more minimalistic feel. The standard edition of Nothing Was the Same stands at 59 minutes long, compared to Take Care’s behemoth 80 minute length. You can tell that Drake took only the absolute cream of the crop for this third effort. All killer, no filler. And perhaps even more impressively, he’s managed to sequence the 13 tracks in Nothing Was the Same in a very logical way. Apart from an unfortunately shitty verse from Jay-Z on “Pound Cake” and a funny-ass gangsta outro from Birdman on “The Language”, Drake is the only rapper we hear on Nothing Was the Same. I’m glad he didn’t feel the pressure to throw in his mentor, Lil Wayne, into the mix just for formality’s sake. Other than that, Drake’s choice in guest singers are pretty on point. I love you, Jhene Aiko.
If you’re not down to check out the album as a whole, I’d give “Too Much”, “The Language”, “Tuscan Leather”, and “Paris Morton Music 2” a spin. “305 to My City” would be a recommended song, but literally everyone I’ve spoken to HATES it. I love the slow beat, condescending/passive-aggressive lyrics, and the screwed up vocals (shout out to A$AP Rocky) that accompany the song.
Lorde - Pure Heroine
Lorde is young. 16 years young, to be precise. But the level of maturity that she shows on Pure Heroine is invigorating. Part of that invigoration comes from her ability to connect with her audience (which is HUGE now, by the way) through her softly spoken words. She isn’t talking about how she became hugely famous overnight. Rather, she makes it absolutely clear that she’s staying on her own path and that she’s not letting the music industry crush her as it has done to so many other young, impressionable, female talents. Her rejecting Katy Perry’s offer to let Lorde open for her during her world tour spoke volumes, and I’ll admit, it’s the point that caught my attention.
Part of my resistance for Lorde’s music is due to her perceived similarity to Lana Del Rey. Lana Del Rey makes gorgeous music on paper, but on the inside, she’s just Interscope’s minion used to cash in on the indie trend that we’ve seen for the last couple of years. Lorde doesn’t sing about pining for her lover or “summertime sadness”, as Lana would call it. Instead, she makes breezy, low-key, minimalistic music about… being bored? Think about it. She’s a 16 year old from New Zealand. What else is she if not bored? The audience can instantly connect to her and understand where she’s coming from. As the effects of fame begin to play an effect on Lorde’s music, I’m very interested to see where she can go.
Other than the smash single “Royals”, I implore you to check out other songs like “Tennis Court”, “400 Lux”, “Team”, and “Glory & Gore”. You know what? Just listen to the whole thing. Pure Heroine doesn’t even cross the 40 minute mark. It’s really not a big commitment. Come on now. It won’t change your life, but it’ll make for a kick-ass road trip playlist. You won’t regret it!
Earl Sweatshirt - Doris
Earl’s talented. He’s a great rapper. But before Doris, I’ve never been the biggest fan of him. He talked about some gruesome shit, and I felt that he was rapping just for the sake of getting a reaction. He is young, talented, and attention-seeking, like so many of the greats before him.
Doris marks a stark departure from Earl’s previous work when it comes to the range of topics delivered. He’s no longer talking about cutting bodies up and raping girls. Instead, in an interview, he said that he was attempting to make “pretty music” and that people expecting gruesome shit should stop listening to him altogether. He grew up.
That’s quite a statement to make from a guy who hasn’t even released a full-length body of work. But if you follow him on Twitter (like I do), you’ll know that he just doesn’t give a fuck. He gives his honest opinions about everything, whether it is Jay-Z’s new album or radio-favourite Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. When he receives backlash, he shrugs it off and goes about his day. It’s certainly not the smartest move for a 19-year-old dude trying to make it in the music business. But Earl’s music speaks for him.
When it comes to lyricism and wordplay, Doris takes the cake. Earl stacks metaphors on top of metaphors and spews a volley of lyrical gunfire that’s a refreshing change of pace in the hip-hop landscape of 2013. Earl thinks too much emphasis is placed on production, and he does his best to prove his point. Not that the production on Doris is lacking; more often than not, it’s phenomenal. Just listen to the Neptunes-produced “Burgundy”, with its crisp horns and synths. Pharrell’s been on a tear lately, and he doesn’t stop on Doris. “Chum” features a haunting piano melody that breaks down into something louder after Earl’s done spitting. I wouldn’t consider the music “pretty” per se, but it’s a vast improvement from the music he was making in Tyler’s Bastard era.
Earl’s Odd Future cohorts do a pretty good job supporting him on Doris. Vince Staples and Domo Genesis are never able to rap on the same level as Earl, but they fulfill their roles as supporting actors quite well. Frank Ocean raps for the second time in recent memory (after “Oldie”) on “Sunday”, but a part of me just wanted him to use those pipes of his. What’s most surprising is Odd Future’s mighty leader, Tyler, the Creator. Instead of doing his best to steal the attention (like he always does), Tyler performs his role and acts more like a big brother. His verse on “Sasquatch” is actually pretty funny. “Man I suck now, I ain’t still dope / But Chris and Rihanna are fuckin’ again so there’s still hope”. There’s an uninspired verse from Mac Miller on “Guild” and a straight up weird verse from a guy named SK La’ Flare on the album opener, but the positives outweigh the negatives by far.
Earl’s rapping has been consistent in quality, but its evolution in depth is what makes Doris a truly remarkable album. Referring back to “Burgundy”, he talks about not being able to visit his dying grandmother because he’s too busy finishing up Doris – a far cry from the persona of the wild child he puts on in photo shoots.He also talks about his perceived wealth and the pressure he feels to perform as a part of Odd Future. Odd Future became huge in the hip-hop community practically overnight – while Earl was out of the country. It’s natural for him to feel that he doesn’t belong, and he opens up to it. It’s refreshing to hear that kind of honest.
With everything said and done, I kind of find Doris a boring album. The songs begin to blend together, and apart from the remarkable tracks (“Whoa”, “Uncle Al”, “Hive”), nothing really stands out. Earl’s got a nice flow, but he’s not one for switching it up. Finally, the darker tone of the album as a whole leads to the thing being somewhat monotonous. Still, Doris is a great album – one that deserves your attention.