Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Zeina — Eastend Confessions

The Montreal singer’s debut album is a harmonious blend of R&B and Arabic music influences paying homage to her heritage.

In the days following the release of her debut album Eastend Confessions, Zeina posted a photo of her father to her Instagram with the caption, “I could have millions of streams but this is the real flex for my dad.” In the photo, he is pictured wearing a t-shirt that reads “My daughter is on a Billboard.” 

Born to Lebanese and Egyptian parents and raised in Montreal, the artist’s Arabic heritage has come to play a central role in her music. She spoke to Apple Music in 2023 about the importance of reclaiming her cultural identity, which she had initially felt a bit hesitant to represent: “But as I grew up, I realized, ‘No, that’s what makes me different. This is truly me, and I have the power to be this right now and not be scared and really embody that.” Released on April 3, 2024, Eastend Confessions is a full-fledged ode to her cultural background through R&B music, the pinnacle of this homage in her career so far.

Zeina effortlessly switches between singing in English, French, and Arabic on numerous tracks, a nod to her trilingual upbringing in Montreal’s multicultural environment. Additionally, Arabic instrumentation is heavily present in the album’s production. “Hot” is complete with an Arabic drum breakdown on the backend, and “NASTY” is founded upon a typical Arabic melody. “Problematic” bridges both elements, with its oud melody (a traditional Arabic string instrument), mizmar horn bridge, and distinct drum and percussive sounds. These cultural elements are perfectly blended with contemporary R&B production that is smooth, groovy, and accessible. 

“Hooked” has a poppy, tropical bounce akin to Rihanna and DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts,” and is already making its waves on Montreal radio stations as a summer-ready hit. There are also slower moments on the record, such as the acoustic “Betrayal.” “Take Me Down” is a standout, sincere ballad set to soft guitars and smooth bass. 

The album’s lyrical content remains in line with her previous work, focusing on themes of romance and relationships. Songs like “Hooked” and “NASTY” are more upbeat and playful with some risqué moments, while other tracks capture the challenges and confusion that can come with a relationship. “Give Me Time” is an introspective song about taking distance from a partner to focus on oneself. “Temporary” is equally cautionary, as the singer gets candid about not wanting a relationship that requires full commitment. “Problematic” is a fun cut where she flirts with danger, an ode to taking pleasure in being bad.

Zeina’s voice shines all across the project, especially when utilized powerfully on tracks like “Hot,” where her melodic runs are beautifully high and soft. Her sped-up cadence and animated delivery on most tracks is reminiscent of pop-R&B heavyweights SZA and Rihanna, showcasing Zeina’s ability to demonstrate her vocal prowess while simultaneously delivering the addictive qualities of a hit. “Betrayal” is truly the standout vocal performance on the record, with Zeina soaring into a high vocal register that is perfectly highlighted by the track’s minimalist, acoustic foundation.

With its culturally researched production, multilingual singing, and personal lyrics, Eastend Confessions is a portrait of authenticity: Zeina is unapologetically proud of who she is—the Arab-centric, Western popstar she had aspired to become in her formative years.

Score: 8/10

Trial Track: Problematic

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Waxahatchee — Tigers Blood

Katie Crutchfield’s piercingly introspective album was released on March 22.

Hailing from Alabama, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield takes her name from the sprawling creek that runs adjacent to her childhood home. Given this history, it’s hardly surprising that her latest project is staged against a backdrop of pastoral motifs, bolstered by intricate guitar licks and poignantly fraught lyrics. A homegrown twang snakes through Tigers Blood, reminiscent of her previous album, Saint Cloud, which sees Crutchfield at her most reflective.

The first four songs on Tigers Blood, with the exception of the final eponymous track, represent the album’s strongest stretch, beginning with “3 Sisters,” a mournful ballad written with the same devastating specificity as prime Taylor Swift: “You drive like you’re wanted in four states.” The track benefits from the expertise of Wisconsin producer Brad Cook, a frequent Indie collaborator who has previously worked with the likes of Bon Iver (that’s him, on piano and guitar, in 22, A Million) and Snail Mail. “If you’re not living, then you’re dying,” a lyric delivered on the back half of the track, seems to encompass the album’s central artistic and moral value proposition. 

“Evil Spawn” is a joyful exercise in self-flagellation, where deficiencies represent opportunities for play. You can hear Crutchfield’s grin as she playfully suggests, “There ain’t nothing to it babe, we can roll around in the disarray.” 

The album’s fourth track, “Right Back to It” engages in the same kind of blithesome world-building, and one only needs to watch the music video to experience the earthy grandeur of Crutchfield’s vision. MJ Lederman, who provides the tight guitar grooves and backup vocals, pilots a pontoon boat while Crutchfield sings; the facial expressions deployed as she delivers her lyrics are gorgeously defiant, suggesting a story more turbulent than the tranquil everglades-esq swampland which surrounds her might suggest. 

The album closes with “Tiger’s Blood,” whose title is an ode to the shaved ice flavour and its messy strawberry dribblings, a recurring motif that gestures towards a return to childlike innocence. It’s a track seeping with nostalgia, a powerful force which animates Crutchfield’s gentle croons: “We were young for so long, seersuckers of time.”  

There is nothing glossy or presumptuous about Waxahachie. Crutchfield’s charm lies in the ability to bring her listeners down to earth with her, and although you might emerge with dusty jeans and muddied fingernails, you’ll somehow be breathlessly happy about it. With Tigers Blood, one feels Crutchfield is content to sit on the sidelines and watch as other contemporary artists strive for relevance in a musical landscape characterized by the proliferation of robust metanarratives about culture. A breath of fresh air, Waxahatchee’s latest release is a triumph of self-recognition and frisky optimism. 

8.5/10

Trial track: Lone Star Lake

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Beyoncé — COWBOY CARTER

Beyoncé’s triumphs on her eighth album, an all-encompassing ode to country and American music.

Beyoncé prefaced the release of her new album with a statement explaining that the album was born partly from the backlash she received from her appearance at the 2016 Country Music Awards: “I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t.” COWBOY CARTER, her eighth studio album, is all about Beyoncé staking her claim within the country music realm. The record is an exciting ride through classic American music styles, with researched production and homages to the great artists of the genre.

Although country music defined the lead singles of the album, COWBOY CARTER is rather an all-encompassing tribute to historically popular styles of American music. Beyoncé notably pays tribute to several iconic artists in American music history, primarily from the country genre she is borrowing from. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Linda Martell all appear in spoken or sung bits that serve as skits between songs. “BLACKBIIRD” and “JOLENE” are covers of classic tracks by The Beatles and Dolly Parton, respectively.

The record has a predominantly country, singer-songwriter and acoustic direction that also dabbles in folk, rock, hip-hop and dance music. “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” has a gospel feel and traces of sitar, while “16 CARRIAGES” is filled with hits of rock guitars. “SPAGHETTI” is a hard-hitting hip-hop banger, as is “TYRANT.” Different types of acoustic and country styles are also explored: the album’s midsection consists of slower-paced, acoustic ballads that focus on emotion,introspection and highlighting the singing.

Beyoncé is vocally intact, delivering several stunning performances. She reaches beautiful highs on the introductory track and soars into Italian opera on the backend of “DAUGHTER,” delivering stunning results. She is joined by Miley Cyrus on “II MOST WANTED,” a duet where the voices are perfectly complementary as they harmonize over acoustic guitars. The intro track is one of many examples where Beyoncé utilizes her full vocal range, tapping into deeper vocals as well.

Beyoncé’s songwriting is one of the album’s strong suits. “16 CARRIAGES” is a story of sacrifice about Beyoncé following her family at a young age to embark upon a musical career. “PROTECTOR” is all about motherhood—providing for your children yet knowing they will be on their own one day. Her rendition of “JOLENE” even puts a fresh spin on the original, opting for a more assertive and defensive track—Jolene is warned to stay aback. 

Throughout the tracklist, there are all sorts of captivating lyrics about Beyoncé embracing Black culture, family, love, sexuality and overcoming adversity and infidelity (“JUST FOR FUN,” “DAUGHTER”).

“YA YA” is a standout, both vocally and instrumentally, combining uptempo guitar licks with horns, drums and roaring vocals. The track is grand and exciting and evokes Tina Turner. “BODYGUARD” is another key track, a laid-back, poppier cut backed by warm acoustic guitars and addictive “oohs.” 

The album’s final leg kicks into a series of dance cuts, calling back to Beyoncé’s previous album. “RIIVERDANCE” combines country instrumentation with a consistent kick bounce. It transitions directly into “II HANDS II HEAVEN,” a song that is equally pulsating but starry and mellow. “TYRANT” is an upbeat hip-hop banger backed by a killer violin melody, and “SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’” is another bouncy bop reminiscent of RENAISSANCE track “THIQUE.”

There are several shorter interludes in between tracks that make for nice moments, though their brevity renders them less necessary. Contrarily, the “SMOKE HOUR” radio show-themed skits and vocal interludes add to the Western aesthetic of the album and aid its flow. 

All in all, COWBOY CARTER is Beyoncé’s latest passion project and a testament to the effort she puts into her work. From her performances to the production, the record speaks to her will to dive into a new style and research it down to every last detail.

8/10

Trial Track: YA YA

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Future & Metro Boomin — WE DON’T TRUST YOU

The trap titans reunite for a joint album that highlights their best strengths.

Future and Metro Boomin are synonymous by this point. The rapper is the voice behind Boomin’s iconic producer tag “If Young Metro don’t trust you, I’m gon’ shoot you,” and the pair have been working together for over a decade. From DS2 to the Drake-assisted What a Time to Be Alive mixtape, and viral hits like “Superhero” and “Mask Off,” the pair have cemented themselves as a dynamic hitmaking duo in hip-hop. WE DON’T TRUST YOU doubles down on their usual chemistry, delivering a 16-track offering of sinister, icy trap bangers.

Boomin’s signature production style is fully on display right off the bat. The horns on the title track are understated yet triumphant, the bells are ominous, and the producer’s knack for creating atmosphere truly shines. This is equally the case on other tracks: “Claustrophobic” and “Ain’t No Love” notably shine due to their inclusion of strings, creating an orchestral feel. Boomin’s signature bells appear all over the album (”Ice Attack,” “Cinderella” and “Magic Don Juan”), setting the nocturnal backdrop that defines his production style. 

The St. Louis native’s beat palette on the album highlights the signature sound he’s carved for himself, one that is versatile. Some of the catchiest beats on the album have a retro feel, whether it’s the late ‘80s hip-hop samples on “Like That” or the open hats on “Fried (She a Vibe)” that call back to classic 2000s trap music. Boomin further elevates his production through collaboration: producer Mike Dean’s synth passages on “Young Metro” close out the track on a cinematic note. Producer Zaytoven’s contributions to “Ain’t No Love” include his signature flutes and varied percussive sounds, all of which make the instrumental even more animated.

Future is fully locked in throughout the project, meeting Metro Boomin right in the middle to create addictive hits. His flow is sticky, his hooks are catchy and the majority of tracks aim for the sweet-spot runtime of three minutes, never overstaying their welcome. His lyrical focus mostly relies on braggadocio, but there are moments of clarity. He takes aim at a friend turned foe on the intro track, and “Runnin Outta Time” is about feeling paranoia and distrust in those around you. No matter the beat, he sounds laser-focused and fits the production like a glove.

Several artists also lend their talents to the project. The Weeknd appears on “Young Metro,” laying a soft and understated hook that perfectly works as entrancing background vocals. Travis Scott’s feature on “Cinderella” perfectly suits the track’s psychedelic, woozy atmosphere and his auto-crooning effectively serves as a segue on “Type Shit.” The latter also features Playboi Carti, who comes through delivering a full-length verse in his recent, signature deep voice cadence. Kendrick Lamar is the true show stealer on the album, with a fiery verse on “Like That” taking aim at Drake and J. Cole. He disclaims the idea of the “Big 3,” claiming “it’s just big me” and reigniting hip-hop’s competitive flame. Rick Ross is another perfect fit, dropping opulent raps over an elegant soul sample-based beat on “Everyday Hustle.”

In addition to Boomin’s cohesive sound, the project is driven by a series of quotes from late Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy. His voice bookends various tracks with quotes that are cocky yet assertive: they are metaphors for the rapper-producer duo’s excellence, a reaffirmation of where they stand alongside their peers—above them, amongst the greatest to ever do it.

WE DON’T TRUST YOU is the latest reminder as to why Future and Metro Boomin are so often revered as a duo: where Future’s flow hits, the production hits just as hard. With another album set for April 12, this album proves that the pair can effortlessly impress once again.

7.5/10

Trial Track: “Like That (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Justin Timberlake—Everything I Thought It Was

Justin Timberlake releases a new album for the first time since 2018.

Justin Timberlake is an American singer/songwriter who rose to fame in the 90s with pop hits. In his solo career, he has moved towards R&B. His newest album features collaborations with artists Fireboy DML, Tobe Nwigwe, and *NSYNC. With 18 songs, the album is about 1h20min long.

“Memphis” is the first song on the album. It is a moody, reflective piece in honour of his hometown. He discusses his ambivalent feelings towards fame. The looping, dreamy beat is abruptly followed by “F**kin’ Up The Disco,” a much more cheerful song. The album mostly contains these more upbeat numbers, as well as a few love ballads.

In recent years he has collaborated with his former bandmates of NSYNC on songs, including on his most recent album. Everything I Thought It Was explores Timberlake’s feelings about fame, from the past to the present. He calls back directly to his past in some songs, and more vaguely in others.

There is a religious theme in a few of the songs. “No Angels,” “Sanctified” featuring Tobe Nwigwe, and, arguably, “Paradise” featuring *NSYNC. This serves as an interesting connector throughout the album and also ties back to his past. His father was a church choir director, which has had a clear impact in his sound and the religious themes he chooses to explore. The religious throughline may also be a reference to his hometown once again, as Memphis is the home of a Baptist megachurch. 

In the song “Play,” he references his very early career, when he was on Star Search, singing: “I’ve been makin’ first impressions since I was barely eleven.” This ties into the larger theme of him looking at his past, and perhaps wishing to reinvent himself. From “Memphis,” we can see that he feels pressured in his current role. With new music, artists are constantly reinventing themselves. This album embraces that.

His distinctive use of harmonies is evident throughout the album. Timberlake mixes his unique voice and harmonies with R&B and pop beats. Each song fits within his pop persona whilst exploring very personal themes. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in his collaboration piece with *NSYNC. “Paradise” is the emotional core of this album. In this collaboration with his former bandmates, Timberlake reminisces about his past and about everything that brought him to this moment. It is a very sweet song about believing in yourself and appreciating your past. Even if he may want to reimagine himself, he is still grateful for his experiences.

This album is a fun listening experience. Even if you’re not familiar with Timberlake’s work, I think his approach to music brings out his unique talents and his understanding of what the public wants.

Each song is distinctive but cohesive. The album has a strong identity. Timberlake acknowledges who he used to be whilst continuing to build a new persona for himself. One that is, most likely, more true to who he is.

6/10

Trial Track: Sanctified featuring Tobe Nwigwe

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Tierra Whack — WORLD WIDE WHACK

The American rapper and singer-songwriter released her second full-length music project on March 15, resuming her unique witty touch in the music industry.

Philly-based rapper and singer-songwriter Tierra Whack blessed us with a significant number of singles since 2019 but finally dropped her album WORLD WIDE WHACK on March 15. 

Whack’s previous full-length music release dates back to 2018 with a similar title called Whack World consisting of 15 songs, with each track being exactly one minute long, resulting in a witty and calculated 15-minute project. The artist’s initial breakthrough was through her 2017 track “MUMBO JUMBO,” which brought new occurrences to the term “mumble rap” and was Grammy-nominated for its music video. 

With a runtime of 37 minutes, Whack presents 15 new tracks to the public with a variety of lengths per song, as opposed to her debut project which was more calculated in that regard. At first listen, each song can stand on its own but the album maintains a cohesive blend track after track. The sequencing of the songs provides a smooth and seamless listening experience from slower more pensive tracks to more energetic sounds, which is exactly how the transition from the very first song “MOOD SWINGS” to “MS BEHAVE” plays out.  

One of the first facets of this new era of Whack that I discovered was the “CHANEL PIT” music video. Her sound can easily go from almost childish-sounding instruments and playful hi-hats to harsher more aggressive 808’s and kicks. “CHANEL PIT” perfectly embraces the contrast and sides of her production style while correspondingly emasculating all the directions this album’s production gravitates toward. Its music video is also pure Whack. We see her standing still while going through a car wash and being hit with red cleaning curtains that match her hair, delivering a striking and stimulating visual experience as usual. 

One thing I love about Tierra Whack’s style is the straightforward approach to conveying her lyrics. Sometimes, it seems like Whack is blatantly talking to you but always sustaining a certain harmony in her tone while doing so. In “IMAGINARY FRIENDS” for instance, the artist freely shares “my last best friend said he wished he didn’t know me” and expands on her situation more as if you’re her confident, all over a lush sound with a prominent dreamy guitar. 

I particularly appreciated the random piano chords and key endings at the end of “MOOVIES,” “DIFFICULT” and “INVITATION.” The piano doesn’t necessarily coincide with where the song seems to be heading but offers an odd yet interesting closing to the tracks. The bass in “SHOWER SONG” is also truly addictive and the definition of groovy, especially accompanied by the catchy chorus harmonies where she names popular female artists that she’s singing to in the shower. 

Whack also confirms to herself and everyone else that she is a perpetually changing artist and constantly formulating her craft, stating “Every song I drop, I change the sound” on “INVITATION.” 

WORLD WIDE WHACK is a reflection on how the artist feels at not only this stage of her career but also how she experiences her life as an artist and as a regular human citizen. On “SNAKE EYES,” Whack says that she “treat[s] the fans like homies” and “blood, tear, and sweat I work so hard” giving some insight into how she is navigating fame and her work ethic. 

Whack spilled some of her personal consciousness through lyrics like “the glass full, but I’m empty” and “when the world seems like it’s against you when your friends and family forget you.” Whack isn’t apprehensive in delivering her psyche in a diary style over an almost calming and dreamy beat on the closing track “27 CLUB,” referring to the cultural phenomenon of celebrities—mostly musicians—who die at the age of 27 after some intriguing tragic event. 

A hip-hop polymath, Whack’s refreshing and creative persona is still present, offering all listeners a memorable and playful tone, yet balancing it out with raw lyrics making WORLD WIDE WHACK an infectious project. Whether you’re into witty production and catchy melodies, or pondering some more with vulnerable storytelling, the passionate artist has something in store for you. 

Score: 7.5/10

Trial Track: “SHOWER SONG”

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Ariana Grande—”Eternal Sunshine”

A new era of blatant honesty has begun with Ariana Grande’s Eternal Sunshine.

Friday, March 8 became a day of rejuvenation for Ariana Grande fans as the anticipated record Eternal Sunshine dropped at midnight. 

Grande, an A-list celebrity whose stardom bred from her youthful Broadway debut, has had no fairytale orbit in the music industry. Eternal Sunshine, a conceptual album intertwining Jim Carrey’s 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, articulates a brutally honest depiction of cyclical inner turmoil and creates roots in self-awareness.

Whilst her name is no hidden gem amongst the charts and media buzz, it has been nearly four years since she released a mid-pandemic album Positions. Given the back-to-back three-year release of Sweetener, Thank U, Next, and Positions, Grande’s unusually lengthy interlude until 2024 left listeners pining for the singers’ resurgence. 

Her breath of renewal has allowed Grande’s raw and hard-cutting lyrics to flourish in their honesty whilst leaving a newfound space for understanding and compassion. The album’s introductory track, “intro (end of the world),” immediately asks listeners: “How can I tell if I’m in the right relationship?” Clearly, Grande no longer beats around the bush. 

Her self-confidence persists within Eternal Sunshine, spearheaded by “bye,” a nostalgic ‘80s disco anthem. Despite being played in nightclubs, the lyrics of “bye” juxtapose its upbeat bounce entirely and speaks to an unfilled craving for a “happily ever after.” Following suit, this desire for love carries out within “don’t wanna break up again” in a calmer illustration of dread. The theme of being a burden dates back to Sweetener’s “everytime” and serves as a reminder of Grande’s turbulent history with lost love, grief, and tragedy.  

The songwriter’s depth in lyricism lies true with the title of the album: while the expression “eternal sunshine” idealizes the desire to maintain a happy and positive stride, Grande’s record marks an end of optimism and instead introduces an acceptance of reality. 

The title track “eternal sunshine” deepens the album’s ties to its concept film. Erasing monumental memories follows the plotline of Carrey’s 2004 film and emphasizes the record’s underlying theme of blissful ignorance.

Playing on Grande’s sarcastic humor, the Destiny’s Child-inspired “the boy is mine” creates space for playful risk and femininity, seen similarly in the records’ chart-leading single “yes, and?” Contrastingly, “true story” divulges the media’s hostile narrative. 

In the recent post-pandemic years, what has become increasingly evident surrounding society’s dictation of artists in the limelight is the shift of where universal attention is focused. The engrossment in an individual’s art has been abolished by the sudden ever-strengthening interest in the lives of these creators. 

The character that has been birthed in association to the name “Ariana Grande” has become all encompassed to the singer’s fame: she is a pop-princess, a poised diva, the home-wrecker, the donut-licker, the controversy. Eternal Sunshine’s “true story” persists with no hesitation in blatantly illuminating the derogatory narrative society paints on Grande’s life outside of music. 

As the record dances around the singer’s recent divorce, a true relationship that radiated through its production is that between Grande and producer Max Martin. The protection to Martin’s foundational practices and fundamental trap beats brush against moments of pure catharsis, and experimentation with muted instruments and tones. 

Another track, “we can’t be friends (wait for your love),” leaves listeners on the outskirts of Grande’s painful breaths, muting external noise in a moment of pause. The final 30 seconds of orchestration driven by trumpets and cinematic strings mark the inauguration of a new beginning in strength for Grande. This is by far the most raw track of the record and showcases a vulnerability listeners have only been privy to with Thank U, Next’s “ghostin.”


Fueled by a new wave of ‘90s pop synths entangled in Grande’s darkened lyricism, Eternal Sunshine feels like a matured big sibling to Sweetener and Thank U, Next. Grande’s seventh studio album elegantly lets go of resentment and instead makes room for “loving and leaving.”

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Faye Webster—Underdressed at the Symphony

The American singer-songwriter put out her fifth album with waves of love from listeners since its release on March 1st.

The month of March started on a more-than-pleasant note after the Atlanta-born singer, songwriter, and musician Faye Webster dropped her fifth studio record Underdressed at the Symphony. Composed of 10 tracks with a runtime of about 37 minutes, Webster continues the sonic sound she has built and refined over the years. 

If you are not already familiar with her work, you might have heard a snippet of one of her most famous songs “Kingston” being used a lot as a TikTok audio; or you may have caught videos online of the artist performing covers of the soundtrack of the popular video game Animal Crossing at past concerts. Her witty but refined alternative sound is sustained with this new record and old and new fans can equally experience what Faye Webster is all about without any filter.    

As stated in a biography section under her label’s Secretly Canadian website, “The title of Faye Webster’s new album is inspired by her occasional compulsion to lose herself amongst concertgoers at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.” Indeed, the singer would find herself spontaneously going to symphonies to escape and find herself in an environment where she didn’t necessarily feel like she belonged. 

Right at the beginning of the album, we are in the midst of a dreamy ‘70s pop and mellow country sound with R&B ties. The bass, guitar and drums slowly come in to create this canvas for Faye Webster to remind us how lovely her vocal range is. The opening track “Thinking About You” is sweet and straightforward, in which Webster thinks aimlessly about a certain someone.  The seamless mix of genres at the very start perfectly introduces the consistent sound that will follow. It is also essentially coming from her roots back in Atlanta and the influence of its city’s music scene. 

One of my favourite moments in the album is in the next track titled “But Not Kiss.” Webster softly starts singing “I want to sleep in your arms,…” with a delicate guitar playing in the background, right before a playful and powerful piano and drums abruptly come in while she adds “but not kiss” to the line. The contrast in both the lyrics is brilliantly transferred musically and takes the listener by surprise more than once throughout the song. 

Another special moment is the fourth track “Lego Ring” which features multi-hyphenate artist Lil Yachty as the only guest on the album. The two were actually close friends in middle school as Atlanta teenagers, as Webster shared in a 2017 W profile. I especially love the rough but calculated guitar that starts the song off along with Webster’s higher-pitched vocals that contrast with Lil Yachty’s autotuned lower tone.  

One of the finest songs of the entire album for me is definitely “Feeling Good Today.” The catchy melody Wesbter sustains over its lyrics tells of a mundane-sounding day. All the lines in the song are so simple yet so telling as if coming straight out of her personal day. However, what makes it extra special is the line that sets the scenery of the song when she sings “I’m feeling good today, I ate before noon, I think that’s pretty good for me.” That really struck a chord in me and made me realize that sometimes the most basic-sounding phrases hold the most weight. 

The track that stayed the most in my head after my numerous listens ended up being the eighth track, “eBay Purchase History.” The fact that this is the title of the song intrigued me, but what made it memorable is how the phrase was used throughout the lyrics. Webster is essentially expressing how, if someone were to snoop in her eBay purchase history, it would tell a lot about her. There are so many ways one could share how to understand them better, and the artist conveys this playfully on top of this mellow melody and delightful production. 

Underdressed at the Symphony is simply a great add-on to Webster’s discography and enriches it to the maximum. From smooth and catchy vocals to raw and vulnerable lyrics along with the uniformity of warm-sounding instruments, this project is proof that Faye Webster never disappoints. 

Score: 9/10

Trial Track: “eBay Purchase History”

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: ScHoolboy Q—BLUE LIPS

The LA rapper’s latest album is versatile, vulnerable, and strikingly down-to-earth.

BLUE LIPS finds ScHoolboy Q in his most clear and focused state thus far in his career. It is the American rapper’s most personal record, and finds him exploring topics like past drug use, newfound sobriety, family life, fatherhood, and his mental well-being. He is perfectly self-aware of who he is and who he used to be: he truly comes across as down-to-earth through his songwriting. 

“Blueslides” is an especially vulnerable song where Q gets candid about his mental health. He sings, “But lately, I ain’t really been myself, ain’t strong as I seemed” and “I done made problems my problems, now I barely can breathe.” 

“Cooties” is another introspective highlight. In this song, Q shares his gratitude for his daughters and their stable, healthy life, while also expressing his worries about their safety. Lines like “Why God blessed me? I never deserved it,” are perfect examples of the poignant, personal lyricism on this record. 

“Germany 86” is an ode to his mother and formative years, a track in which he juxtaposes his present-day level-headedness with the everyday struggles and pain of his upbringing. The rapper celebrates the current version of himself throughout the album, but he is inherently tied to the man he once was.

Q approaches BLUE LIPS as charismatically as always. His delivery is filled with conviction and intonation, as he shouts his ad-libs and navigates through tracks with rapid, razor-sharp flows.

The production on the album is volatile and versatile, continuously cranking the dial between understated jazzy cuts, rattling brash tracks, and hybrids of both. Elegant jazz samples set the backdrop for tracks like “Blueslides” and “Lost Times.” 

Contrarily, “Pop” features rattling grunginess and rock guitars, sonic characteristics reminiscent of Q’s 2016 album Blank Face LP. Trap production takes center stage on several occasions to maintain the high energy: “Yeern 101” is an adrenaline-filled cut where Q relentlessly raps over heavy 808’s and a multitude of fast-paced claps and percussive sounds. 

There are all sorts of beat switches throughout the record, creating an exciting and unpredictable listening experience. The majority of tracks begin and end entirely differently, constantly keeping the listener on their toes. Some of the beats are more ambitious and experimental: “Foux” features percussions clattering in every direction; “Love Birds” and “Time killers” are based upon rhythmic, off-kilter grooves, yet Q finds his way over them perfectly with unique flows.

The featured artists are fitting additions to the album experience. Rapper and singer Rico Nasty perfectly matches ScHoolboy Q’s energy with her brash and brazen performance on “Pop,” aggressively screaming the track’s title. Producer and rapper Devin Malik’s double appearances are perfectly complementary to Q, given how similar his vocal delivery is. Rapper Ab-Soul’s appearance is another standout, thanks to his alarmed delivery which matches the eerie, hypnotic vocal sample looming beneath him.

Overall, BLUE LIPS is a culmination of the best traits of ScHoolboy Q’s music—it’san LP that is unpredictable and impressive all-around. Q is as expressive as ever and showcases a new level of humility and self-awareness. He truly comes across as grounded, which heightens the significance of the personal growth he conveys throughout the record.

Score: 8/10

Trial Track: Blueslides

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPIN: Lyrical Lemonade—ALL IS YELLOW

Video director Cole Bennett rounds up his famous friends for the debut Lyrical Lemonade album.

Cole Bennett made a name for himself and his media company Lyrical Lemonade in the late 2010s by directing rap music videos. With his unique editing style involving bright colours, and quirky effects, he rapidly established himself as a go-to director and boosted many rappers’ careers during the SoundCloud era (2016-2019). Fast forward to 2024, he has gathered many of these names into one curated, collective album, released under his own company’s banner.

All Is Yellow shines best due to its array of voices. Bennett taps several legends from his hometown of Chicago such as drill rappers Lil Durk, Chief Keef, and G Herbo, and late superstar Juice WRLD. Alongside on the roster are Lyrical Lemonade alumni, first-time collaborators, and underground hip-hop veterans. 

Some of the less likely match-ups make for surprisingly effective crossovers on the album. Melody and melancholy intersect effectively as Latto, Aminé, and Swae Lee join forces on “Special.” Detroit and Chicago link up on “Equilibrium,” as BabyTron and G Herbo sound perfectly collected and laser-focused over an airy trap beat.

For the most part, the record is a standard, trap-influenced hip-hop album. There are moments where simplicity strives; take “Guitar In My Room” for example, whose guitar melody lays the groundwork for a stellar, heartfelt Lil Durk performance. 

There’s also “This My Life”—a simple, piano-based track featuring Lil Tecca, The Kid LAROI, and Lil Skies. The trio delivers solid melodic performances that call back to the music they were making back when they first claimed fame with the help of Lyrical Lemonade. The track is a time capsule that perfectly captures the ethos of the prime Lyrical Lemonade era.

However, on cuts like “Say Ya Grace” and “Stop Giving Me Advice,” the lack of instrumental progression makes it easy for the beats to get stale quickly and drag on for up to four minutes at a time. 

Some of the more interesting production moments consist of other rap styles, as well as deviations from hip-hop altogether. Juice WRLD and Cordae team up on “Doomsday,” a freestyle recorded over a classic Eminem beat in 2019. The track is a clear highlight given their undeniable chemistry, charisma, and knack for wordplay.

The triad of Gus Dapperton, Lil Yachty, and Joey Bada$$ results in a warm, lush piece of groove-heavy indie pop on “Fallout,” complete with a tempo switch halfway through. This same mellow tone defines other tracks as well: It helps the sentiment of sincerity shine on “Hello There,” and lends “Hummingbird” a tranquil feel.

Many of the performances are up to par, though the instances of guests falling flat stick out more than those who give outstanding performances. Ski Mask the Slump God paints by the numbers on “Fly Away,” giving a predictable verse that sounds trapped in 2018 (his signature ad-libs also sound out of place, given their cartoonish nature over a cinematic instrumental). His performance pales even harder in comparison when JID swoops with his masterful display of flow and multisyllabic rhymes. 

Some of Eminem’s disses to Benzino on “Doomsday Pt. 2” come off as cringe, along with the unnecessary stray at the latter’s daughter, rapper Coi Leray. Cochise’s contribution to “First Night” strips him of his best qualities, forcing him into a rather standard performance over an instrumental that is better met by the rest of the track’s features.

Overall, All Is Yellow is a decent showcase of Lyrical Lemonade’s star-studded list of alumni. Although it does not reinvent the wheel, it gathers a large crop of artists and births unique results from otherwise unlikely pairings.

6.5/10

Trial track: “Guitar In My Room”

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: 21 Savage — american dream

21 Savage’s newest project follows his path to fame, with more intense tracks alongside chill beats.

american dream by 21 Savage starts and ends with his mother’s voice. The first monologue features his mother, Heather Carmillia Joseph, as she talks about her hopes and desires for her son. The album concludes with her acknowledging his success. The American dream, if such a thing exists, is his, and he constantly expresses surprise at how he has survived his life thus far, such as in the final song off the album, “dark days.”

Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, known as 21 Savage, is a British-American rapper based in Atlanta, Georgia. His stage name refers to a shooting on his 21st birthday that took his friend Johnny’s life. His most recent album american dream marks his first solo effort since i am > i was in 2018, and first release since the Metro Boomin-assisted SAVAGE MODE II in 2020. It runs just under 50 minutes long with 15 tracks, featuring collaborations with Doja Cat, Young Thug, Metro Boomin and Travis Scott, among others. 

The album has a liberal structure, using two monologues as a framing device. It leaves breathing room for the songs to speak for themselves while tying into the general themes of the album which include loss,  loyalty, violence and love, all of which Savage has been exploring throughout his career. Tracks like “redrum” highlight his recurring use of violent imagery, which dates back to his earliest projects like The Slaughter Tape (2015). His lyrics pull heavily from his own life. In the song “letter to my brudda” he outlines his loyalty to Young Thug and empathizes with his plight. It is an expression of love and friendship that recalls “letter 2 my momma” off the album i am > i was

The tracks on this album come together to create a complex picture of his life and thoughts at the time of recording, like with his previous releases. 21 Savage explores loss not only through death but also through incarceration. He condemns other rappers for snitching and talks about the injustice of the system that stripped his loved ones from his life—including Johnny. Abraham-Joseph carries this loss with him not only through his stage name, but also through an emotional current, almost as if to say “this is for you.” His success and career are all in memory of Johnny. 

There is a lot of variety in the sound on american dream, achieved through sampling and catchy soul and R&B beats. There are darker instrumentals, such as on “redrum.” Yet, he samples Mary J. Blige’s “I Don’t Want to Do Anything” on “should’ve wore a bonnet,” which has a chill, ballad vibe. 21 Savage’s talent is obvious from his lyricism to his composition. He uses metaphors and wordplay to elevate his lyrics.

The end of american dream is hopeful. 21 Savage talks about how he never thought he’d make it, and encourages his listeners to keep going. Heather Carmillia Joseph wishes her son even greater success now that he has this foundation of fame. She hopes for more for him, as every mother does.

Score: 7/10

Trial Track: dangerous

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Kali Uchis — ORQUÍDEAS

The Colombian-American singer pulls from an array of dance styles on her second Spanish-language album, to stunning results.

Before releasing her latest album Red Moon in Venus in March 2023, Kali Uchis already announced that her next album—a Spanish effort—was on the way. ORQUÍDEAS arrived on Jan. 12, less than a year later. It is the Colombian-American singer’s fourth studio album and second Spanish-language effort following Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) in 2020.

ORQUÍDEAS is her most versatile album to date, with a sonic palette that pulls from a large range of dance music styles. From upbeat to mellow and ambient, the album contains numerous moods and textures. The opening track “¿Cómo Así?” features an upbeat rhythm driven by punchy kicks, clearly influenced by house music. This is equally the case for “Me Pongo Loca” and “Diosa,” both of which are just as bouncy, but more lowkey and slow-tempo. “Igual Que Un Angél” is a glimmering piece of dance-pop characterized by all sorts of twinkling synthesizers and a heavy bassline. The song is a duet with Mexican artist Peso Pluma, whose lower vocal range perfectly contrasts Uchis’ higher pitch. His performance is similarly smooth and pleasant, making for a perfectly complementary addition. Elsewhere on the record, she steps into familiar territory with bedroom pop and R&B tracks like “Pensamientos Intrusivos” and “Young Rich & In Love,” which recall the sounds of her usual work.

Latin dance styles are also crucial to the album’s soundscape. “Te Mata” is tried and true to the Cuban bolero subgenre with its traditional instrumentation and lyrics about love. Uchis is falsely labeled as the villain in a toxic relationship, but embraces it, showing that she is the bigger person. This track is one of many on ORQUÍDEAS that highlights her fantastic vocal ability and range. Here, her opera-like voice goes from a lower register to a higher one with full power. She soars to even greater vocal heights on other tracks, notably pulling out whistle notes on the track with Pluma. Her vocal layering and harmonization are stunning, especially on “Heladito” where her background harmonies are even more entrancing than the song’s heavenly chimes and strong groove. Her embrace of bilingualism across the record is noteworthy as well. Similarly to “Hasta Cuando” and “Como te Quiero Yo” from Red Moon in Venus, the singer effortlessly switches between English and Spanish, from single lines to entire verses at a time.

The last leg of the record is essentially dominated by reggaeton, bringing a burst of energy to the record with back-to-back upbeat songs. “Muñekita” is a fun reggaeton banger that continuously speeds up and slows down, offering up dynamic tempo changes. She is joined by Dominican rapper El Alfa and American rapper JT (of City Girls), both of whom deliver verses full of personality. “Labios Mordidos” reads as a song of sirens where she teams up with Colombian singer Karol G. The two offer a sultry track, flirtatiously exchanging and complimenting each other over a dynamic piece of reggaeton production with different rhythms and melodic layers. Uchis brings in Puerto Rican hitmaker Rauw Alejandro for “No Hay Ley Parte 2” to put a fresh spin on a single she first released in 2022. The revamped version swaps out the original club beat for reggaeton. The two-part “Dame Beso // Muévete” closes the album on an irresistibly infectious note, with Uchis offering a merengue track. It comes ready with a tempo switch in the second half which brings the song to a speed that is guaranteed to get any and everyone moving on the dancefloor. That would explain why it is already receiving heavy praise from fans on TikTok.

ORQUÍDEAS is undoubtedly one of Uchis’ best offerings to date. The record is danceable, groovy, atmospheric and ambient, but also researched and versatile. She draws from numerous types of Latin music and dance genres, combining them into a record that constantly takes on new directions and executes them beautifully.

8.5/10

Trial Track: Dame Beso // Muévete

Exit mobile version