Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (album review)

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, June 2016.

Fresh from the buzz of his deeply revered ‘Ultralight Beam’ verse, Chance still knows how to play the game independently and cultivate his own success through a commitment to authenticity. While The Life of Pablo was tagged a gospel album by another of Chicago’s sons, Coloring Book really delivers on this front – with ubiquitous choir runs, organs, and wall-to-wall references to Christianity, this release sees Chance reach a notably more content and hopeful standing without sacrificing the introspection integral to his style of stream-of-consciousness hip hop. Dipping into elements of soul, r&b, house (‘All Night’) and the uncharacteristically straightforward, dozy strain of hip hop heard on ‘Mixtape’, Coloring Book is a vibrant kaleidoscope of sounds which is always changing but never confused. While showcasing a list of impressive features (e.g. Kanye, Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Future), none have a particularly significant impact on Coloring Book’s dynamic; Chance’s strongest release to date finds its strength in his vision alone. It’s difficult to imagine that signing with any of the countless major labels desperate for Chance’s business would benefit his artistry much, and this release is part of a career built almost entirely on music released for free or streaming only. As Coloring Book reminds us from the outset – music’s all we got.

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The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (album review)

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, March 2016.

 

It would be very easy to write off The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of itThe 1975 as a product of the vacuous hype machine, a band victim to its own celebrity or, well, any of the accusations presented in the video for latest single ‘The Sound’ in a delightfully tongue-in-cheek package – but the indie-pop cool kids have delivered a record with merits enough to demand the cynics sit down and take them seriously. Building on the formula of their previous full-length release but improving in nearly every way, I Like It When You Sleep… is a realisation of the band’s layered, colourful potential. They get away with everything they almost certainly shouldn’t – 17 tracks, including interludes, which fly by; lyrics like “you look shit and you smell a bit”; and a noticeable lack of potential singles in comparison with previous efforts. Dripping with ‘80s synth licks and beautifully produced, there is an honesty and authenticity to the album which, while characteristic of The 1975, is particularly arresting here – there is a real sense of Healy holding a magnifying glass to himself, and the album benefits from it.  Ranging from the depths of electro-melancholy (‘Somebody Else’) to playful grooves (‘Love Me’), The 1975 have crafted their own world in order to take over ours.

Fall Out Boy – American Beauty/American Psycho (album review)

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, Feb 2015.

With the release of their sixth full-length, the band that encourages their fans to “stay weird” appears to be leading by example. AB/AP is darker than its predecessor and more confident in what it is – an unashamed pop record bringing self-awareness to the radio.
“Irresistible”, while packing less of a kick than previous openers, embodies the oddball swagger which is so characteristic of FOB at their best. The title track, a bizarre overflow of dance production and Motley Crüe sampling (think the “Hokey Cokey” for Cathouse regulars) is more effective in the context of the album. Meanwhile, standout “Fourth of July” is intense and emblematic of what makes the album great: interesting layering of sound and clever sampling. With this track being structured around a Son Lux sample, “Tom’s Diner” and even The Munsters theme appearing on the album, the experimentation is a favourable reminder of FOB’s hip hop sensibilities.
AB/AP’s primary shortcomings are “Centuries” and “Immortals”: essentially two shades of the same song. Uninspired and contrived, both feel like material tacked on to bump up the track count and contribute to a sense of the album having been rushed. Fortunately the other tracks are strong enough to counteract this; intricate and lyrically poignant but undoubtedly arena-ready.

Lily Allen – Sheezus (album review)

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, September 2014.

Claiming her latest album title as ‘an homage’ to Kanye West – reach your own conclusions – Lily Allen has been all about making statements since her recent comeback. Unfortunately, on ‘Sheezus’, her messages tend to be lost amidst the subpar execution.

The title track and its positively novel chorus strike the listener as a nursery rhyme for those clinging desperately to relevancy. ‘Air Balloon’ is a high point but falls a little too close to being a M.I.A. tribute for Allen to score any points for originality. Lily shines most when she stops aiming for wit over honesty; ‘Take My Place’ is refreshing and ‘As Long As I Got You’ is delightful. ‘URL Badman’ and ‘Hard Out Here’ are both examples of a legitimate point being there to be made, but some lines are misguided at best (‘I don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cause I’ve got a brain’, anyone?) ‘Close Your Eyes’ is an almost addictive listen, as long as you’re not looking for subtlety.

‘Sheezus’ marks a maturing in Allen’s sound, singles aside, yet retains her signature sense of fun – something which serves the album well as it acts to flow the varying styles together. The latter half of the album is markedly stronger than the first, but what Lily has delivered tends to be largely disposable.

Manchester Orchestra – Cope (album review)

“We wanted to make the kind of album that’s missing at this time in rock: something that’s just brutal and pounding you over the head every track.” Andy Hull is right in suggesting that there was a clear focus in the creation of Cope, a quality which some felt was missing from MO’s last release, Simple Math.  It’s also true that Cope falls on the harder side of things, guitar driven and mostly unrelenting. Unfortunately, this sharp vision for the album appears to have also been the album’s downfall, leaving little room for ideas to grow.

Opener and single Top Notch gives a fairly accurate foreshadowing of the record to come; palm-muted verses sit against powerful, swirling choruses as Manchester Orchestra’s brand of melancholic indie-rock is given an energetic kick into 2014. The mid-tempo feel doesn’t let up much throughout the record, though, which largely contributes to Cope’s monotony, with The Ocean’s repetition proving tedious. Meanwhile, Every Stone is an album highlight and not the only point on the album to feel evocative of a rougher-sounding Jimmy Eat World. The album closes with the title track whichgets as close to ‘brutal’ as this release comes, showing potential that was frustratingly forgotten on earlier songs.

There’s nothing bad about the album, and Manchester Orchestra remain one of the pillars of their genre – but with a record that tends to blend into itself, it’s unlikely that Cope will have much lasting value.