All posts in April 2015

Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb (Extended Review)

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Don’t want to read all of this? We get that. Here’s a video review for Tyler, The Creator’s Cherry Bomb.

Tyler, The Creator was made off of the hype generated by how aggressively polarizing his music was. With the buzz from “Yonkers” to going up on that stage to accept some MTV award and saying “for all the kids watching, you can do this shit yourself, fuck the system, Golf Wang”, he firmly cemented himself as someone in music who was going to do something big in this generation. I have an on-and-off non-committal relationship with Odd Future and its subsidiary acts. Every summer for the past couple of years — around the time the shorts and short-sleeve button ups come out again — I find myself returning to watching Tyler’s radio interviews, having Mellowhype back on my phone, and listening to Earl’s self-titled. That changed last summer for me when I got my first turntable. There were a few records that I knew I needed to nab with the swiftness: MBDTF, The Money Store, good kid m.A.A.d. city, and Wolf. When it was released in April of 2013, I wasn’t all that stoked about it. It was progression, but I just saw it as change from the artist who was making cool music that embraced anger and angst. The record had an excellent deluxe edition though, and I enjoyed the record enough. It arrived after work on a summer Friday when I had nothing else to do with no one else in the house so I dug in and let myself get engulfed. It was that listen where I really comprehended what Tyler was doing on that album. This was helped along by the cool edition of scan-ins of Tyler’s lyrics in his handwriting, pushing me into full immersion. That’s how Tyler, The Creator fully won me over and I grew to love Wolf. So, when Cherry Bomb was released last week, I downloaded it with confidence and without hesitation.

Cherry Bomb is the fourth full-length album from the Odd Future front man. His discography is one of the more interesting I’ve been able to witness first hand. He begun with Bastard, a project that has amassed itself a long list of adjectives that people labeled it with: unfiltered, raw, angry, rebellious, sophomoric, unforeseen, promising, crude, graphic, I could go on. This continued with Goblin in 2011, which was released to in the wake of the ever-so provocative and “shocking” video for “Yonkers”, which was skillfully shot in a stark black and white. That’s right around the time where Tyler was accepting a few awards and earning some praise from some critics and contempt by others. Past the buzz Goblin was a stronger, much improved project. The production was still raw, but it was tightened and sharpened. The lyrics were still incendiary, but there was more purpose and his intentions were a bit more clear. I will always suggest Goblin to people. “Yonkers”, “She”, “Tron Cat”, and “Burger” are all unflinchingly unique and very much their own. Continuing the trend, Wolf again stepped it up: the production was there, the lyrics were there, the songwriting was much improved. The main success of the album was the concept tracks as well as Tyler’s character playing, both of which were at a creative and artist peak on this album.

There was a time where Wolf was meant to be the end of its trilogy and the end of Tyler’s discography as a whole. However, back in November we got word through an excellent Fader cover story that Tyler was working on a follow-up project with the hope of dropping it out of nowhere during the Odd Future carnival, but sadly the timing wasn’t right. Last week it finally was the time and Tyler released a music video followed by an album a short time later right from under our noses, much like Earl did just last month with his I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside album.

Here we are with Cherry Bomb. And I’ll tell you, I went into that “Fucking Young” music video with confidence and was hit with something I really should have expected. On that track and on a lot of this album Tyler dives deeper into his influences in a very transparent, unapologetic way. This is done to the point where “Deathcamp”, the album’s opening track, sounds exactly like an N.E.R.D. fan just trying to emulate their Rock-Rap sound. To be fair, this could be because this is just that. Tyler is by no means the worse to do this, but it doesn’t feel like him. This influence can be seen on the album’s title track “Cherry Bomb” as well with it being very heavily inspired by the distorted work of Death Grips. The really interesting part of this album is that this could very well be the music that Tyler has been striving to make. It makes sense, really. His success has done big things for him, the most important of them getting him into the position of butting elbows with his influences. His success has also granted him with the slew of resources that make this album sound so great audio-quality wise, even if his style is still wild and chaotic.

Speaking of making the music he wants to make, Tyler has said on multiple occasions that he wants to be able to sing, but he can’t because his voice is too deep. Instead of pitch-shifting his vocals lower like he has in the past, Tyler attempts to fix this by doing the opposite, distorting his voice to what it is on “Fucking Young”. And the verdict? Eh. I’ve heard it done better. I also think Tyler had something pretty unique with his vocal effects. Let’s take it all the way back to the “French” video in 2010 (which I will embed below for your viewing pleasure). I think that sound has a lot more character than the sound on “Fucking Young”. It’s fits Tyler’s style so much better, and it’s an effect that doesn’t work with anyone else quite as well. But that, just like this entire review, is just my opinion.

His voice seems like it was made solely for the purpose of rapping. At this point he is really good at it, as he demonstrates at a couple points on the album, he just isn’t doing enough of it. I feel like he just needs to accept his fate and use it as an opportunity to be one to teach people a lesson as he got from Pharrell. Making the music you want to is crucial, but working with what you’ve got is important too. Speaking of that, on “Keep the O’s” — featuring our darling Pharrell Williams — has this voice effect is all over the place. It all feels a bit unnecessary. Maybe it’s just not my cup of tea, but even if it’s still unhinged and stream-of-consciousness this doesn’t feel like a Tyler, The Creator album to me. The point when all of this became clear to me was on “The Brown Stains”. Fuck man, Tyler snapped off. As someone who lives for this type of rappin’-ass-rapping, I was so happy a song like this make its way into this project. In fact, this track is really all that I love about Tyler. The beat is sharp but still frantic and the rapping is skillful and braggadocious to the point of being Tyler just talking his shit. He’s got a knack for that swag/flex-rapping, that was in part what made his so controversial in the beginning. Another great part of the track is at 1:38 when it becomes more skeletal for a few measures, this being a production choice that Tyler really started making his own on songs like “Tron Cat” and “Yonkers”. Also, as an added bonus we get a very clean ScHoolboy Q verse to close the track. This is a smart addition being that have proven their synergy on “The Purge” off of Q’s Oxymoron.

One of my major eyerolls I had and keep having with this album is Tyler’s lyricism. On “Deathcamp”, as he has done before, Tyler is laying out his alternative new age M.O. To quote him, “In Search Of… did more for me than Illmatic, that’s when I realized we ain’t cut form the same fabric.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Tyler explain himself in a track and we really don’t need something that brazen. Consider the entirety of Wolf: Tyler really laid himself out as an artist and as a person on tracks like “IFHY”, “Answer”, “Cowboy”, and “Colossus”. He was finally unfolding himself from this tight emotional bind that was on Bastard and Goblin. There are tracks on Cherry Bomb that do this, “Pilot” serving as one example, but songs like “Deathcamp”and “Cherry Bomb” do it in such a blatant, ham-fisted way. Where is the finesse? Tyler got the same type of point across on “Bimmer” when he said “pop some Tame Impala, your man got a lame Impala” and that doesn’t have the “I’m different” attitude. For another example, “IFHY” was a really unique, non-conventional way to address a girl, but then we got “Blow My Load”, which was just taking a step back to “Analog” which is a song that I think shows more immaturity than youthful spirit.

I would have a heart of pure blackness if I said I hated this album. Tyler seems to have really poured himself into this album and the love and intention resulting from this is clear in the music. I don’t at all mean to sound big-headed, but the way I judge music factors in the artists themselves. I think Drake and Big Sean are boring because they don’t have much personality in their music. Rapping doesn’t have this sort of reputation, but it’s a honest medium where you and your personality shine through. With this, I really enjoy the music of a grab-bag off-beat personality like Tyler, The Creator. I like Cherry Bomb, I do. I don’t think this is by any means his strongest work, in fact it may be my least favorite, but it’s not a black sheep among his discography. Again, it makes a lot of sense he would make this album at this point in his life. His Fader cover story but it best when it read “the album, like the reality he’s constructed, is one big wish list come to life, drafted by a child raised to affirm his identity by his own decisions.” That, my friends, is the excellent work an English degree grants you.

The argument Tyler is challenging in my mind is that of expression’s weight in judging music. I’m thinking of this as Tyler’s Yeezus. That album was Kanye West’s protest of typical radio-pandering Pop Rap. All the way from the beginning Tyler’s music has been coloring outside of the lines because that’s what Tyler likes. His music is what he wants to make to an unabashed, sometimes aggressive degree, and I can respect that. I’m not sure his vision made for a critically great album this time, but I can respect Cherry Bomb for what it is. Was my mind taken away to the same degree like it was with Wolf? No. Was I impressed with Tyler because he did something we thought he couldn’t? No. Do I enjoy having to say all of this? Of course not. I’ve been rooting for Tyler since “Yonkers” because I was at the perfect age for it. I would love to see him continue to progress (with the progression from Goblin to Wolf having been so outstanding). This doesn’t feel like Tyler moving forward and pushing himself into new territory as an artist and as a musician. It feels like him enjoying the place his previous successes have gotten him. Again, I can respect this, but I would have admired Tyler’s efforts much more if he moved forwarded rather than enjoyed stagnation.

You can download Cherry Bomb on iTunes or grab a physical copy here.

Personal highpoints:

“Buffalo” / “The Brown Stains”

Personal lowpoints:

“Blow My Load” / “Fucking Young” / “Okaga, CA”

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Charlie Johns

Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too (Extended Review)

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Don’t like reading? We got you.

The music of up-and-coming Scottish experimental genre-splicing trio Young Fathers is tough to explain. Since 2013’s Tape One they have been making charming, accessible, inventive music that combines influences from almost every corner of music. The typical Young Fathers fare — or at least where they began — blends the beat and tempos of African drum circles with industrial, sometimes lo-fi production to create a soundscape that I feel is really compelling, especially when you factor in their very approachable poetic lyricism which is carefully laid over top. So, this is all to say that their music has the potential to enchant you as it has myself for a while now. Their career has been starting to gain some good traction and they have found solid creative footing. On White Men Are Black Men Too, the group continues thriving in their own domain artistically. Also, in addition, they venture deeper into their musical influences, blending that inspiration well into what they are working with.

Even if at times it may be hidden over layers of stylistic sheen, the group has been steadily progressing with their sound since Tape One. One area where I think this is blaringly observable is in their production. They dress their music with small production embellishments, adding heart and character to their sound. Tape One had the initial experimentation with the drums and buzzing synths over soulful spoken word while Tape Two delved into some vocal effects, giving tracks like “Mr. Martyr” and “I Heard” a very cloudy, sexy vibe just as is accomplished in most of the Weeknd’s music. On DEAD, the group’s 2014 full-length, the tone got dimmer and a bit bleaker while incorporating a jagged edge to their production with more layers of smut. Now for this, the group’s sophomore album, released via Big Dada Recordings, which I feel is their most exploratory release yet while simultaneously being their most telling of the aim of their music.

Young Fathers’ music is dense by nature and WMABMT continues this trend. Their releases haven’t been over 40 minutes or so – this album being no different with tracklist of 12 which hangs right under 40 minutes – but it’s never a quick process for one to absorb their music. This album took quite some time for me to chew and digest. There’s a lot going on in here, and their continuation of experimenting with different oddball production quirks furthers this immensely. To be fair to the sound, though, it also makes it a lot more enjoyable. There are the twangy strings on “Old Rock N Roll”, the Indie-Rock-Of-Monsters-and-Men-ish whistling on “John Doe”, the scratchy synths on “Get Started”, and “27” with its Donkey Kong Country sounding bass-kicks. Again, these little quirks help to both solidify the profile of the music as well as bringing out its character and personality. This isn’t the first time first time we’ve heard this in their music, with, among others, a very notable jaw harp appearance on DEAD’s “JUST ANOTHER BULLET”, but it’s continuing to be something I obviously very much dig. The Young Fathers are really capitalizing and refining the unique groove in music they have so dutifully carved for themselves.

When I reviewed DEAD, I came across a Soundcloud comment that summed up Young Fathers with a level of brevity that I couldn’t even hope to achieve. TTK92 described their music as “endlessly inventive”, and those are words I associate with this endearingly alternative band to this day. With each of their releases they are doing something new while still maintaining the key through-line of making music that is both loud and sometimes confusing but still very well-organized. Their music is paradoxical in that way, and while we are on that topic I’d like to point out another achievement. I don’t think anyone could argue that this music doesn’t fall under the ever-growing experimental music label. However, one of the things we knew about the direction of this album was that it was Young Fathers’ “interpretation of what a Pop album should be.” There aren’t many genres that are farther apart, but they somehow nailed both. This is interesting for me to dig into and get my hands dirty with, but I could very easily see the contemporary ear accepting it. I can’t understand how they did that, but that’s probably why I don’t make music, I just advocate for it.

With that, go listen to White Men Are Black Men Too, because it really deserves to be heard. You can support the band by buying the album through iTunes or by snagging a physical copy.

Personal Highpoints:

“Feasting” / “Old Rock N Roll” / “Nest” / “Get Started”

Personal Lowpoints:

“Dare Me”

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Charlie Johns