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.”

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”

Music Quickspins


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.


Trial track: “Guitar In My Room”

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: The Weeknd – Dawn FM

Dawn FM proves once again that this ’80s synth-heavy sound feels extremely natural for The Weeknd

Arguably one of, if not the biggest popstar in the world, The Weeknd is fresh off the release of his fifth studio album Dawn FM. The Toronto native is back after a massively successful last two years. He most notably released the biggest album of 2020: After Hours, which received an incredible reception, both commercially and critically. Despite getting snubbed by the Grammys in 2021 (don’t get me started on this) he headlined the Super Bowl Halftime Show, a feat only few artists have the chance to achieve. 

Dawn FM is a continuation of the sound The Weeknd was popularizing on After Hours, with its ’80s inspired instrumentals, synth-pop infused melodies and some of the catchiest songs he has ever put out. 

Dawn FM is a radio station themed album narrated by none other than Jim Carrey, the radio announcer of “the number one station to free your soul: Dawn 103.5,” as The Weeknd mentions at the end of “Here We Go… Again” featuring Tyler, The Creator. Carrey appears on multiple occasions, whether he is making advertisements on “Every Angel Is Terrifying” or having his own closing monologue on “Phantom Regret by Jim,” his presence on the record really reinforces its radio themes.

Since Dawn FM is presented as a radio show, it flows exceptionally well together and is filled with flawless transitions between songs. The transitions are so immaculate that someone who doesn’t look at the song titles could easily think it’s one long song; for instance, the progression between the energetic “How Do I Make You Love Me?” to the Daft Punk influenced “Take My Breath.” It even took me at least seven listens to realize “Starry Eyes’” is a song on its own and not the outro to “Is There Someone Else?” For all of those reasons, it is significantly better to listen to this record in one sitting, rather than listening to certain tracks on their own.

Despite some songs not quite hitting the mark, like the bland “Gasoline” and “Don’t Break My Heart,” The Weeknd still manages to provide some ridiculously infectious tunes. Songs like “Out of Time,” “Less Than Zero” and “Best Friends” are key tracks that are a big reason why Dawn FM is so accessible. This album is perfect to dance to, but is also perfect to cook and clean to. Whether you’re nine or 99, it is hard to resist the captivating nostalgic electronic sound of Dawn FM.

Days after the release, The Weeknd announced that there was going to be a trilogy and if After Hours and Dawn FM are the first two installments, I simply cannot wait for the third one.

Score : 7.5/10

Trial track: “Out of Time”


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Music Quickspins


LP! is JPEGMAFIA’s most unique collection of tracks

JPEGMAFIA is back with his second release in 2021 with LP!, following up the release of EP2!, a tight seven-track EP that dropped in February. When I think of unique artists in hip hop, artists that push boundaries and explore sounds that go beyond the imaginable, JPEGMAFIA is one of the first names that comes to mind. One of the most intricate figures in the game, he is a true pioneer in the new experimental hip hop universe.

LP! is not as abrasive and rough as Veteran and All My Heroes Are Cornballs are, but it’s definitely more experimental in the sense that he’s trying so many new things on this record.

LP! is filled with unexpected production choices, but it’s to the record’s benefit. You never know what’s coming next and that is what makes it such a special listening experience. One example of this is the heavy metal type beat with tons of echo in his voice like on “END CREDITS!” More surprisingly is the homage to Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” that sees him crooning parts of the chorus with his voice being submerged in autotune on “THOT’S PRAYER!” you never know what direction he’s going in, which makes every track its own unpredictable journey.

The mixing of vocals on LP! is one of the most impressive parts of this album. An average listener may not catch it at a first listen, but it becomes evident when paying close attention. JPEGMAFIA’s voice is constantly changing throughout the album. Sometimes he screams and sounds as aggressive as ever, other times he will simply rap with an inexplicable quirky effect on his voice like on songs like “ARE YOU HAPPY?,” or on moments of “THE GHOST OF RANKING DREAD.” He will always manage to make it sound appealing and interesting.

While not super focused in terms of themes and lyricism, LP! contains a handful of clever one-liners. Bars like “And we got straps as big as Dugg in my apartment,” referring to the 5”1 rapper 42 Dugg on “SICK, NERVOUS & BROKE!” or “I might just ghostwrite a hit” on “NEMO!” are both showcasing JPEGMAFIA’s witty sense of humour.

The track sequencing on this album is also off the charts, with most of the songs having a bit of a random beat switch. Yet JPEGMAFIA always finds a way for it to make sense, something mostly attributed to his attention to every little detail and irreproachable work ethic. Despite the tracks sounding different from one another, they all flow pretty well together.

LP! is a mind-boggling, all over the place experience, but it’s the work of a true genius and no other human being could have done this album. JPEGMAFIA once again proves that he truly cannot miss.


Trial Track : “SICK, NERVOUS & BROKE!”

Score : 8/10

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: to hell with it – PinkPantheress

Get ready to dance, cry, unwind, and vibe –– all within twenty minutes.

PinkPantheress has arrived. The viral TikTok musician released her first mixtape, to hell with it, on Oct 15. One of the standout voices among Generation Z musicians, the British pop singer blew up on the platform in early 2021. Although she is quite new to the music scene, she already has over ten million monthly listeners on Spotify — and her mixtape is quickly raising that number.

In total, to hell with it contains ten songs, but its entire running time is only just over 18 minutes, showcasing what has come to be a theme in PinkPantheress’ music: songs under two minutes. Although the songs are short and the pace of the mixtape may be quite speedy, the production quality does not suffer because of it.

The project itself can be classified as a bedroom pop album — it also borrows from hyperpop, lo-fi, hip hop, classic pop, and electronic music unique to the U.K. scene. The uniqueness of to hell with it is in its cohesion and diversity — the entire mixtape has a similar sound. One of the hallmarks of any PinkPantheress song is her use of samples: she loves sampling songs from the ‘90s and 2000s, remixing them to her liking. Some samples include  Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” and Linkin Park’s “Forgotten.” What is impressive about the project is how different each song is — while they all have a similar feel, they could not be more different from one another.

The mixtape has its highs and lows, both in mood and quality. Songs like “Passion” and “I must apologise” have an upbeat energy and make you want to bop around your room at 3:00 a.m. Other tracks, like “Noticed I cried” and “Pain” will make you want to curl up under the covers and reimagine old dramatic scenarios in your head. PinkPantheress is a master of sad music: as she explained in a TikTok video, “plz understand I don’t write sad lyrics in an actual ‘sad’ way but in a studious, unlucky in love main character in a y/n x Harry x Zayn Wattpad love story way.” Even so, some tracks like “All my friends know,” are filled with an inexplicably vibey energy.

Despite all the fantastic bits and pieces that are so well put together, something is still missing. Fans of PinkPantheress love her Y2K, early 2000s energy, but almost every single track features a sample: in 18 minutes, she somehow manages to sample six different songs. It feels like the real PinkPantheress is still waiting to shine. Her voice is quite melodic, and her lyrics have weight to them, but this mixtape leaves more to be desired. Granted, she is only twenty, so there is no doubt that her sound will continue to come into its own.

PinkPantheress has put out a real gem: to hell with it is the deep and alternative breath of fresh air needed to shake up pop music right now. Her impact can already be felt on social media — the artist’s songs have been used by hundreds of thousands of creators on TikTok, serving as backdrops for dance trends, makeup videos, fashion lookbooks, and so much more. Young people love her sound, as it seems to take them back to their childhood in an enchanting and psychedelic manner. This is PinkPantheress’ first ever project of this size, and it is quite the promising prelude to any of her future works.


Trial Track: “I must apologise”

Score: 7/10

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: James Blake – Friends That Break Your Heart

Friends That Break Your Heart  is a continuation of the sound he was surfing on his last record, Assume Form

James Blake is one of the more interesting names in the pop and R&B field. His last record, Assume Form, was a big departure from the sound that first got Blake onto the scene. Despite being a popular figure in the genre, the enigmatic singer approaches the style in a way that stands out from your average artist, blending elements of electronic music and R&B in a refreshingly experimental form.

Friends That Break Your Heart is an intimate listen that all starts with the gorgeous opener “Famous Last Words.” This song sees Blake opening up about a relationship that ended, feeling like he should have forgotten about that person by now. This is accompanied by a stellar instrumental, with an absolutely breathtaking string progression at the end.

Blake’s self-titled debut veers more towards the experimental while including esoteric sound clips in a Björk kind of way. This might not be for everyone at first but once you get used to it, it’s actually quite pleasant. Friends That Break Your Heart borrows a lot of trendier elements that are easier on the ears. The production of the record is extremely atmospheric with songs such as “Life Is Not The Same” and “I’m So Blessed You’re Mine,” showcasing Blake’s somber and more ominous instrumentals. The Metro Boomin produced “Foot Forward” is also another cool highlight with its bouncy piano chords. These production choices instantly captivates listeners into his own world. It truly feels like it has been meticulously assembled in a genuinely delicate way with every single sound on the record having its own purpose.

Blake’s voice also adds a lot to the experience and his vocals throughout the album can be described in two words: hauntingly beautiful. His rich and high-pitched delivery provides a profound sentiment of melancholy, and when this is paired with his lyrics about losing friends, it all makes for one truly magnificent experience.

This album doesn’t have a lot of features, but the few that are included all enrich the overall experience. Blake has a knack for choosing quality artists to be on his songs, and this album makes no exception. From the likes of SZA on the utterly pleasing “Coming Back,” or even JID and SwaVay on “Frozen,” both delivering explosive verses — they all add up to the overall experience of the album.

Friends That Break Your Heart is a breath of fresh air in the mainstream pop and R&B branch and is one truly hypnotizing listen that you will come back to more often than not. Ten years after the release of his first album, this is definitely his best album to date.


Trial track : “Coming Back”

Score : 8/10

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: By the Time I Get to Phoenix – Injury Reserve

Injury Reserve’s latest album is all over the place, but it’s beautiful

Injury Reserve is a hip hop group known for their jazz rap mixtapes, their self-titled debut album Injury Reserve from 2019, and their quirky sense of humour. However, they’ve been through a lot as a band in the short span of just two years. The pandemic, personal turmoil, and the political uproar that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 pushed the trio to move away from their already defined sound, and work on a project darker in tone.

While it was supposed to drop in 2020, the tragic passing of core member Stepa J. Groggs put the album on hold and the future of the band still remains uncertain. It was only this past August that the remaining members quietly dropped a new single and announced that the album would release on Sept. 15. Since its release, I’ve listened to this album five times and have processed my thoughts about it. One thing is certain: if this ends up being Injury Reserve’s final record, then I can rest easy knowing they put out one of the best albums of this year.  

By the Time I Get to Phoenix is quite haunting in its presentation. The album is defined by its  lo-fi distorted sampling paired with abstract lyrics that are almost incoherent at times. It gives the album a raw, visceral, and manic sound. Tracks like the opener, “Outside,” are filled with odd panting and words being repeated frantically by lead rapper Ritchie with a T. The song amounts to almost lyrical gibberish accompanied by a busted chiptune sample looping in different variations.

Another incredible track, “Superman That,” is one of the highlights on the album and is all over the place in terms of structure. It’s a weird blend of EDM, autotune, and rap, and it’s hard to even describe what kind of genre it is. It’s explosive, lyrically depressing, and creates a sense of anxiety.

At times, the abstract nature of the album gives off the feeling that certain songs are incomplete demo tapes or lost recordings that weren’t meant to be heard. While I had issues with a few tracks sounding similar, I think the often barebone elements of the record’s production are necessary to its overall themes, even if it makes the project hard to listen to casually. Parts of the album can say a lot without saying anything at all, and “Wild Wild West” is one of the best examples. The song delves completely into the rise of conspiracy theories: Ritchie impersonates a conspiracy theorist and rambles on about 5G towers being set up everywhere by the “Inspector Gadget.” 

The late Groggs has some incredible vocal performances on the album. His screeching on “Footwork in a Forest Fire” brings a lot of heat and energy, and “Knees” is one of Groggs’ most vulnerable performances and takes a hard look at his mental state before his passing:

I should probably take this booze off my rider

Okay, this last one is my last one, shit

Probably said that about the last one

Probably gon’ say it about the next two

Well fuck it n****, at least my dreads grew

This dark and emotional moment perfectly characterizes the album. The song’s depressive themes of falling back into bad habits such as alcoholism, feeling stuck in a place and unable to grow as a person, make it a hard song to process.

Ritchie also provides some of his best material on the album with “Top Picks for You.” Through spoken word, Ritchie delves into grief and attempts to move on. It is the most straightforward song on the album in a sea of abstractness. He delves into how despite the fact that the people he’s lost are no longer physically present, bits and pieces of themselves that they left behind are a constant reminder that they once existed. For example, even with the passing of the person he grieves, algorithms on subscription services they shared such as Netflix still recommend shows that this person watched, but never finished. The system is asking the user if they want to “jump back in”:

Grab the remote, pops up something you would’ve watched, I’m like “Classic”

This some shit I would’a seen you watch and then just laughed at

Your patterns are still in place and your algorithm is still in action

Just workin’ so that you can just, jump right back in

But you ain’t jumpin’ back

While the album can be difficult to digest given its themes, abstractness, and eerie production, the overall listening experience is probably one of the best I’ve had this year. I find myself diving into this album often to help absorb the impact of these dark times.


Trial Track: Superman That


Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Craig Stickland – Starlit Afternoon

Craig Stickland starts off strong with his debut album

On Feb. 28, Craig Stickland finally released his debut album, Starlit Afternoon, in which he explains his journey through 12 songs.

Eighteen days before the big release, the Vancouver-born singer-songwriter started sharing the inspiration and story behind each one of his 12 tracks on Instagram and Facebook. In doing this, Stickland took us on the adventure with him; making us feel as if we were present in those moments, and sharing details of his personal life.

Without these short descriptions, we would have never guessed that the story behind “History” is him bumping into his ex-girlfriend at a “fake, trendy LA party” after not seeing her for a year.

In the opening track, Stickland gives us a good taste of the rest of his charming album. He describes a person singing and dancing under a “Starlit Afternoon,” making us feel as though we are right next to them.

His soothing voice, along with the calm acoustics take us to whatever place he’s singing about so beautifully. High notes heard in “Warning” and “Break Every Rule,” for example, make listening to him even more pleasant.

Stickland couldn’t have made a better debut album than Starlit Afternoon.

Rating: 10/10

Trial Track: “Starlit Afternoon”

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Justin Bieber – Changes

After taking over four years for himself, Justin Bieber is back with a new style in Changes

After four years of ups and downs, Justin Bieber’s long-awaited return arrived on Feb. 14 with the release of his fifth studio album, Changes.

Unlike some of Bieber’s most popular tracks, “Baby,” “Boyfriend,” and “Despacito,” overall this album has a slow tempo. Yet, some songs distinguish themselves with stronger bass and catchier beats, as heard on “Forever,” featuring Post Malone and Clever, and “Running Over,” featuring Lil Dicky.

It could have been better. The 17-track album is way too long. With most of the songs being slow-paced with low or moderate vocals, it gets repetitive after a few tracks. Besides, “Yummy”—other than being annoyingly catchy—is a complete waste of time.

Whether this album is about Bieber’s wife or his ex-girlfriend, his desire to put his feelings first is evident. Although effort alone is not enough, as he said, he’s been “going through changes.”

This album could have been a total disaster or a total success, and somehow it’s right in the middle. Some songs are enjoyable and some are regrettable. Fortunately for him, Beliebers will always be satisfied with his music because they belieb in him.

Rating: 7/10

Trial Track: “Habitual”


Mac Miller, Circles, and the art of the posthumous release

The late rapper’s estate successfully delivers a carefully crafted and complete posthumous effort.

The posthumous album is one of the most conflicting listening experiences any music fan can have. The motive behind the release isn’t always clear: the music might be unfinished, the quality may be lacking, and you can’t help but think about whether the artist would have wanted it released. Musicians put their life into their work, and in the unfortunate event that they pass, who their music is left to can majorly affect their legacy––either positively or poorly.

In September 2018, Mac Miller tragically passed away at the age of 26, leaving the music world in shock. His impact on hip hop was enormous, as he played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of the genre through the 2010s. In using his platform to bring light to many up-and-coming artists, Miller played a major part in the budding careers of Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt, and many more.

While his platform helped to give these artists exposure, they also helped him find himself musically––throughout his career, Miller showed an astonishing level of growth. With each project released, he moved further and further from being the youthful stoner that was trying to fit into archetypal hip hop traditions laid out by his influences. Towards the end, Miller was working towards creating a sound and style that was entirely his own.

With 2016’s The Divine Feminine he took a chance, releasing a full-length project that relied on his singing as much as his rapping. Infusing neo-soul instrumentation with modern hip hop, the release’s sound was fresh for Miller and showed his desire to evolve as an artist. This was doubled down on with the release of 2018’s Swimming, leaving behind his neo-soul influences for a more varied and eclectic soundscape. These two projects showed Miller heading in a direction less concerned with fitting in, and more concerned with personal and artistic growth.

Circles builds off of the foundation laid out by these two albums and on Miller’s legacy while taking his music in a slightly different direction. Serving as a companion album to the aforementioned Swimming, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion worked to complete what he and Miller had started. The result is a mesmerizing album, that is extremely melancholic, yet instrumentally lush and gorgeous, and features some of Miller’s most personal writing and best singing.

While Miller isn’t a classically trained vocalist, that had always been a part of his charm. His ability to capture the emotions present in his lyrics through his limited vocal range humanized him as a singer and makes him more relatable. It’s less a spectacle of ability and more about being able to feel what he conveys vocally.

Lyrically, this album sees Miller painting a picture of a man who is not only dealing with his personal struggles but optimistically accepting them as part of his life and trying to move on. The theme of Circles, however, appears to be his acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of his struggles, and how they keep coming back around. At times, despite Miller’s seemingly optimistic view, he speaks on his own personal downfall as an inevitability, which is heartbreaking to hear in the wake of his passing.

It’s apparent that this was an album that was well on its way to completion when Miller passed. There is a clear vision here, a cohesive soundscape throughout, and consistent lyrical themes that bring the project together. The album plays like one last goodbye from an old friend—a long, warm and bittersweet hug from somebody that you’re not quite ready to let go of yet.

This is where this album shines; and where many posthumous albums fall short. In recent years, with the unfortunate passing of several young artists, we’ve seen a lot of posthumous releases that seem like nothing but a cash grab. XXXTentacion’s last project, Bad Vibes Forever, was a colossal mess of a project. At 25 tracks long, it was bloated with features and filled with incomplete song ideas rather than fully fleshed-out tracks. The artist’s vision and fan enjoyment were secondary, with the primary concern being maximizing streaming revenue.

In the case of Circles, Miller’s estate has given an example of how to handle the music and legacy of an artist after they’ve passed. It is an album with very little promotion, it’s free of gimmicks or radio-ready singles, has no big features, and the sound isn’t all that familiar for fans. It’s a complete, concise and focused artistic expression of a man who is seemingly learning to accept his internal struggles and grow from them. The album pulls no punches creatively, and that’s what makes it so special.

Circles feels like the full realization of the sound that Miller had been trending towards for a few years now. It’s brilliant, beautifully arranged and emotionally gripping music that gives us a glimpse into where he was mentally, prior to his passing. It’s very apparent that Jon Brion and Miller’s estate understood his vision, and they’ve clearly worked very carefully to bring it to fruition and carry on his legacy. As hard as it is to say goodbye, this is a superb send-off for one of the most important and impactful rappers of this generation.

Rating: 9/10

Trial Track: “Blue World”

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Music Quickspins

Call Super – Apro

Call Super – Apro (Houndstooth, 2017)

Electronic artist Call Super has come out with a stellar sophomore album, Apro, which mixes ambient electronic textures and creative beats. The album exudes love and joy, making it a relaxing listen. Tracks are layered with dense sounds, from bells to white noise. “Music Stand” sounds uniquely upbeat, combining several disparate sounds to compose a surprisingly cohesive track. “Trockel” features a driving beat while echoed synths wail in the background, creating emotionally resonant sounds. At certain points, some of the sounds reminiscent of Aphex Twin and composer Nobukazu Takemura. Nonetheless, Call Super retains a unique sound throughout. This album is definitely a worthwhile listen for electronic music fans.

Sample track: “Music Stand”

Rating: 7.7/10

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