HAIM returns with their signature sound of polished pop-flavoured Indie-Rock, offering a solid track listing without reinventing themselves or the genre.
Sister trio HAIM have added to their strong back catalogue of albums with Women in Music Pt. III, their longest project yet.
Whilst this project didn’t quite blow me away, it certainly is a pleasant experience that doesn’t drag on too long – even though it does end up nearing that territory.
The opening leg of the project is definitely the strongest, with the opener Los Angeles featuring a bouncy kick-drum that the carefree track is built upon.
Here at the beginning are the poppier cuts, including the single The Steps. Upbeat yet about a serious topic manner, a relationship where a partner has pretty much given up, it is fairly simple, but features some neat production choices such as the very slight manipulation of the vocals at times.
I Know Alone diverts the album towards a song featuring an ever so slightly drum & bass-esque backing track, yet keeps acoustic elements. Perhaps I’m not doing the best job of describing it, but the more apparent voice manipulation and electronic elements really separates it from everything else on here.
It’s the subtle sound effects and production techniques that add up overall, keeping rather stripped-back indie interesting with more computerised sounds. Up From a Dream returns to a far more “traditional” sound, but during the break down we enter some washed out, sci-fi styled whooshes that really add to the experience.
That is appreciated because this is a very repetitive song thanks to an overused chorus.
My favourite moment is probably the chorus of Gasoline, a gorgeous song that has an emotive bassline tucked in behind the pianos and keys. The drums to me constantly feel detached from the melodies, but not in an obtrusive way – they’re repetitive and reliable, constantly there without much change up.
This also features my favourite harmonies and vocal performances.
We again divert from strict indie-rock as we drift towards the R&B influenced 3AM, which is another personal highlight.
Don’t Wanna, the last released single, is arguably the plainest out of the six songs previewed before the album’s release.
Following from that track is the far more unique Another Try, with a far more creative mix of instruments and sound effects. More disco and dance driven than any other track, especially during the verses, it does stand out on the tracklisting.
More indie and even folk sounds are woven into Leaning On You, a sign of the final few song on here.
They’re all solid songs that don’t break the mould, but definitely leaning more towards filler. All That Ever Mattered has a more spacious and softer-pop feel to it, but apart from that the final tracks are fairly straight-played.
Right at the end is the bizarre addition of the three singles from 2019 added in as bonus tracks. It isn’t a startling change – they fit the theme of the album, but it isn’t possible to listen to the album without them on streaming services.
I haven’t got a huge list of complaints for this record – whilst it comes across as safe in parts it never screams boring to me at all, and never was it anything less than a pleasant listen. However, in terms of progression from their previous albums, there isn’t the clearest of improvements or reinvention.
Genres: Art-Pop, Glitch-Pop/Hop, EDM, Deconstructed Club
Released: 26/06/20, XL
Arca kicks boxes into touch with this bizarre manipulation of sounds and genres, subverting the subversion of expectations in new ways.
Apparently the first in a trilogy – or a four-parter – this album jumps between genres like no one’s business. And that’s effectively what this project is – no one’s business part from Arca herself.
Fluidity is a key concept behind Arca – as part of her self-identity, but also her music and language. Venezuelan and living in Barcelona yet working in an English-speaking world, we switch between languages like you would do in a bilingual home.
The harsh, electronic sounds of glitch hop and pop meet the stripped back sounds of deconstructed club, whilst things are made even weirder with psychedelic and EDM elements chucked into the mix.
Compared to her more abrasive, computerised sound driven projects, this is Arca’s poppiest album yet – if pop is still a concept in her view of the world.
The opening four tracks flash past at breakneck speed, setting the pace and habits for the rest of the record. The opener Nonbinary boasts a slow rapped verse that is sped up for impact when it calls for it.
It has an unnerving energy to it, thanks to the weird percussion and Arca’s closeness to the microphone. It’s influenced further by layered vocals. The beat picks up when it wants to, with mechanical, industrial clashing of metal in the background.
The song eventually melts its conclusion, with a harrowing giggle to match the slightly off, high pitched notes in the background.
EDM vibes are at their strongest with Time, which is a largely forgettable track that also boasts aspects of Deconstructed Club.
Mequetrefe is our first proper dosage of Spanish on the track, with more glitchy production and vocals on top of another rapidly changing beat. It has this feel of energy that can’t be contained or controlled, coming out in spurts at random times.
The opening track certainly has the most cohesive feeling to it – barely, as hardly anything on this feels connected. But that comes across as by design on Riquiquí , which switches between the two languages.
It shares the gunfire effects from the opener and the frequently changing beat of Mequetrefe, placing it towards glitch-pop and industrial pop.
We get slightly more ethereal with Calor, which also features in the background similar industrial sounds, but placed onto the back burner. The synths that carry us out are again semi-eerie.
Björk, who employed Arca as a producer on some of her previous work, lends Spanish, or at least and Icelandic interpretation of the language, to the track Afterwards. It is more spacious, and again to borrow the term, ethereal in scope. It ends in a warbling, washed out sound.
The collaborations continue on Watch, as Shygirl joins for a song firmly in the genre of Deconstructed Club. The buzzing synths and sound effects create a computerised cacophony of sound, that eventually whirs together into a more cohesive sounding track.
There’s a lot going on here, and whilst I enjoy the instrumentals, they swallow up Shygirl completely to the point where she is simply background noise.
However, that balance isn’t an issue on the track list’s highlight, KLK, where fellow Barcelona resident ROSALÍA joins in to lay down some lovely vocals. It’s a lot more conventional than other tracks on here, replicating more club bangers in its structure. That’s not to say it isn’t experimental – it again uses gunfire and mechanical sounds, of which are slowly becoming predictable and annoying.
Rip the Slit has some interesting lyrical imagery, to say the last. I do enjoy the manipulated vocals that bring us into the track, drawing from hyperpop. It’s very repetitive chorus is clearly designed to be the backbone of the song, and it does create a strong track.
Artpop princess SOPHIE joins on La Chíqui, which doesn’t really blow me away in truth. There are elements towards the tailend of the track to make it interesting, but it does seem a bit derivative at times.
Machote comes to life with some strings, a new element amongst the chaos. It has this shimmering effect at the beginning as well, which I am not a huge fan of. In fact, the last two tracks don’t really offer anything new to me and aren’t worth much discussion.
I really wanted to like this project more than I did, but overall it didn’t quite live up to the hype in my head. That being said it wasn’t a total waste of my time, and I eagerly anticipate further instalments if they are an improvement upon this solid base.
Jessie Ware returns with her most well rounded and mature project yet, recreating 80s disco within a modern viewpoint, filled with bops and grooves.
After four LPs across almost a decade of music, Jessie Ware arguably hasn’t got a bad full length album to her name. Whilst her second and third albums didn’t quite capture critics in the same way her debut, Devotion did, they certainly didn’t get torn to pieces in the columns and paragraphs of reviews.
Whilst I’ve yet to be truly blown away by a Ware project, I did enjoy her previous work. However, What’s Your Pleasure truly is an improvement, and maybe even her best work yet.
I can’t get past the term mature to describe this project – everything is well measured, meticulously placed into their proper slot, well-crafted by an experienced ear and hand. Even though it has obvious inspirations from 80s disco, it never feels like a copy, or forced into the music.
The opener, Spotlight, is a prime example of this. The strings that lead us into the song create a soft yet serious approach to the genre, and whilst things certainly loosen up, it has this up-tight (in a good way) feel to it.
On the titular track What’s Your Pleasure, we are greeted with an almost brooding, moody singing style, with very retro synths cascading in the background. Much more of a pop song, the chorus is sung sensually and close, creating a lovely feel to the track.
We get a little bit funky on Ooh La La, with a luscious bassline opening the track. With futuristic laser sound effects mixed with the sounds of traffic, the sonic landscape of this track is vast and quirky, matching the semi-robotic delivery from Ware.
Things get even more electronic and house-like with Soul Control, with the energy slowly creeping higher and higher the deeper we get into the track-list.
Save A Kiss remains in that gap between house and disco, incorporating the largely forgotten sound of Italo disco.
Around here at the midpoint of the album, things begin to stagnate slightly. The energy drops off before fluctuating wildly between songs, especially tracks such as Step Into My Life and Read My Lips.
It creates an incohesive feeling, but it doesn’t entirely derail the album. However, comparing to the bop-heavy opening section, the last leg of the album is quite forgettable.
One of the few highlights is the last track, Remember Where You Are, which does put the listener in a more ethereal soundscape compared to the rest of the album.
All things considered this is a fun project that is finely linked. The lyricism isn’t as strong as contemporaries in the pop world, however they are never noticeably bad, nor stand-out.
A pleasant listen, and a project that I can see holding up very well in the future.
What’s Your Pleasure (B+)
Ooh La La (A)
Soul Control (B)
Save A Kiss (B)
Adore You (C+)
In Your Eyes (B)
Step Into My Life (B+)
Mirage (Don’t Stop) (C)
The Kill (C+)
Remember Where You Are (C)
Check out this new review of Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure!
Black Eyed Peas’ previous success does not translate to a wildly new genre, with the novelty wearing off quickly, leaving the Peas clinging onto features as life support.
Hey, do you remember Despacito? That was a pretty big hit. A very big hit. Almost as if reggaeton could translate well to an American audience….
Test the theory with a single of our own, RIT MO. Play it slightly safe, with a sample from a retro disco hit. Let the nostalgia carry it, and hopefully the first leg of the album.
To be fair, the opening portion of this is somewhat bearable. But then, the creativity dries up, WILL.I.AM runs out of Spanish nouns he learnt from his travel guide, and this slowly morphs into a blur of pop-rap and reggaeton beats.
The songs flow nicely into each other, largely because they’re all based on the same RPM and rough beat inspiration.
Okay, claiming that this is just a cash grab would be harsh – apparently the Shakira feature comes from her She-Wolf era, so it was in the works a while ago.
But by the time we’ve reached VIDA LOCA, which ruins MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This (and Rick James’ Super Freak), my goodwill runs out. It also sort of retroactively ruins the sampling earlier on, mainly because he reveals how gimmicky every aspect of this album is.
After the opening tracks the album becomes a slog to even have on in the background, with all the songs merging into what the soundtrack to a night out in a club if you were 10 rum and cokes down.
Unfortunately during all my listens to this I was stone cold sober, and the loud, obnoxious yet monotonous beats are somehow obscured by even louder autotuned vocals from guests such as French Montana.
To go and analyse each individual songs would be equivalent to writing lines in detention – a punishment that involves me writing the same thing again and again.
The lyrics switch between English and Spanish whenever a rhyme is needed, and as stated before, WILL.I.AM certainly isn’t fluent in Español, to copy their tactic.
It comes across as tacky and lazy, as almost there is a quota of how much English and Spanish buzzwords a song should have.
As is style for the Black Eyed Peas, the ending of the tracklist is reserved for the tracks that don’t quite fit and offer us social commentary.
Up steps WILL.I.AM for his acoustic guitar led solo (on a highly electronic beat driven album) to tell us about Coronavirus.
Somehow the autotuned yet still tone-deaf lyrics doesn’t cure the planet of the pandemic. Odd.
On balance, this probably shouldn’t have existed beyond one or two singles. I was pleased with their last “experimental” effort in 2018, Masters of the Sun Vol1, and I think the addition of J. Rey Soul helps with the reliance on a female feature to break up a song and track list.
Luckily she’s a Spanish speaker, and for some reason she is credited as a solo-artist on this, despite being involved on the last project? Just more confusion on top of the mess this album already is.
And no, WILL.I.AM. No matter how many times you say the word, this is certainly not “Fuego.”
Run The Jewels took the longest time yet between albums, crafting a statement – musically and politically,landing at a time where the world needs to listen more than ever.
Context is everything. When the wheels started turning for this project, neither Killer Mike or El-P could have predicted the landscape of the world this album would be birthed into. Does the recent calls against injustice that led to worldwide riots make this album’s message stronger, make this a better album?
Perhaps, but in the reality we live in this is the only version of events that we can consume this album within. World context is impossible to separate from music – it influences the lyrics, mood, so many variables both consciously and unconsciously.
It is impossible to listen to this album and not think about the world around it. Maybe if it came out at another time, my – and others’ – feelings would be different.
What truly saddens me is that these words applied before the flashpoint of George Floyd, and seemingly will apply further into an increasingly dystopian looking future.
Even if this album came out before the mass protesting, its lyrics and message would remain the same.
It is heartbreaking to think that when Killer Mike states the timely phrase “I can’t breathe” on walking in the snow, seemingly in reference to Floyd, it was actually recorded six months prior, inspired by the similar murder of Eric Garner, showing how common an occurrence this is.
The track that follows walking in the snow, JU$T, also scarily predicts the murder of Floyd, again referring to Garner’s killing with El-P‘s line:
Whilst this album is direct with its political content, it also isn’t beating a dead horse, analysing many parts of a broken system. It narrows in on the impact of money and capitalist systems, the role of the media in perpetuating racism, as well as discussing enviomental issues.
This is almost a manifesto in terms of the wide range of topics chosen to vent about, and whilst this album flashes past you in an instant, with just 39 minutes, it leaves a lasting impression.
The energy is high throughout, beginning with the lead single and opening track yankee and the brave (ep.4). Killer Mike gets us underway with his lyrical miracle boom-bap style laced with aggression and passion, and to his credit, El-P matches that energy and skill, creating a back and forth energy that really sets the tone.
ooh la la hosts a repetitive chorus that adds to the monotony of the beat, creating a perfect base for the duo and guests Greg Nice and DJ Premier to have fun on.
Over the project the multiple features only add to the experience, and never dominate a song. 2 Chainz joins on out of sight, another light-hearted beat that boasts hard hitting bars.
holy calamafuck features a very prominent beat switch halfway through, with the pair at their most braggadocious. Both sections of the song have a reduced, more measured feel to them, but the aggression behind the delivery is still there.
In terms of personal favourites, goonies vs. E.T. is certainly up there, with a dark and brooding atmosphere from the get go thanks to the pitched down vocals and ominous synth bassline.
There are no bad songs on this project, with other other highlights including the aforementioned walking in the snow and JU$T.
Technically, the quality of production is brilliant from El-P, who also seems to have improved vastly in terms of his flow and delivery. Killer Mike, well, kills it, but I would say his lyricism is a lot more pointed and effective than before.
The sound and feel of this is consistent with the three albums that came before it, and to suggest that this is a vast improvement would be harsh on the first three albums. Make no mistake – this is their best work together yet, but it isn’t millions of miles away from their debut.
Yes, they might not have innovated or evolved much, but have instead focused on polishing, refining their combined sound, all of which comes to a point on this record.
Truly a must-listen no matter your music tastes.
As always, Black Lives Matter. This website relies on the work, passion and artistry of Black people to create music, and whilst gratitude isn’t sufficient, we must speak up on their behalf if they are being silenced. Please check this link out for further information and resources: https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever return with their sophomore effort, a somewhat middling entry into their discography of plain and simple indie-rock that scratches the itch but offers nothing new.
Australian Indie-Rock outfit Rolling Blackouts C.F. hark back to a sound and scene that came way before them with their stereotypical sound, but to turn your nose up at the band’s efforts would be snide considering it certainly isn’t bad.
In fact, if you were, or still are, a big fan of that sound, you certainly won’t regret checking out this project. It is 39 minutes of fun, simple indie-rock that whilst it doesn’t leave the biggest of impressions, is an overall pleasant experience.
The opening track The Second of the First starts with acoustic and electric guitars fighting for the spotlight, bolstering a high-energy start to the record.
With three singer-guitarists in the band there is plenty of opportunities for harmonisation, with a clear example on the second track, Falling Thunder.
The opening few tracks of the album have that indie-rock enthusiasm reminiscent of the UK scene in the 00s, but that soon mellows out on the track Beautiful Steven. It has an almost washed out quality to the sound, and a far slower energy and feel to both the instruments and the delivery.
Into the middle section of the album, where some new instruments are brought into the mix, starting with the harmonica on the track The Only One. On the following track, Cars In Space, the faster pacing is matched with some uptempo horns that really plays into the summer feel of the album.
Towards the end of the track listing the songs start to wind down into a more soft and laidback sound, with the more standout Sunglasses at the Wedding, but in the process creating largely unforgettable tracks in the form of Not Tonight and The Cool Change.
Overall this comes across as music for the summer that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and whilst there is nothing wrong with that approach, it lacks any substance to make it noteworthy beyond its genre.
Compared to their previous efforts there isn’t really any innovation in terms of sound or approaching new ideas and sounds with anything more than a half-hearted glance.
Yes, whilst it does slightly pale in comparison to their earlier work, to go as far as to say it is bad or a waste would be disingenuous.
Hopefully the band learns from this and can evolve their sound properly in their next offering.
Chloe x Halle’s harmonies fill their sophomore effort, producing a solid offering of pop flavoured R&B that remains fresh despite its use of modern tropes.
Singers, songwriters, producers and actresses, sister duo Chloe and Halle are two severely talented individuals that combine so well as a team. Rarely on this album are the pair separated – but their luscious harmonisation never gets old as the album steers through topics that could be confusing if both sisters took turns with their own lyrics.
However, they effectively become one on this project, as we rarely hear that voice divided or tainted with. The layers of vocals on multiple tracks create a choir of their voices, but at no point does it seem to me that we have too much of the girls’ singing.
Their unified stance and approach to their songwriting creates a consistent point of view throughout lyrical content that is similarly linked cohesively – discussing the concepts of dating a love in a modern world.
The Intro track builds up nicely and flows well into the first proper track, Forgive Me, which takes that phrase and meaning and reinterprets it. Instead of being in the wrong, instead the lyrics are asking for their own ignorance and foolishness that allowed them to be wronged be forgotten.
That feeling of introspection is carried on into Baby Girl, a far more positive song. Again the harmonising vocals, and other layered vocals are so heavenly and encapsulating. Lyrically the content is aimed at all women in general, steering towards self-love and acceptance.
Do It incorporates modern trends that dominate the pop space at the moment, namely the hi-hats and snare driven beat that can be found every five minutes online and on the radio.
The trap-esque beat does make way for a far more “classic” and contemporary R&B feel around the choruses, and it does have a hint of 00’s R&B about it despite the more modern aspects of the song.
On Tipsy we have arguably the most alternative moment on the album, with subtle manipulations and style switch-up that creates this really interesting sound. Focused on being drunk on love and punishing a partner making mistakes in a very tongue in cheek way, this track definitely is my favourite and has stuck with me the most.
With the titular track Ungodly Hour you can instantly tell who the sisters collaborated with – the beat and feel of the track is lifted almost verbatim from Disclosure‘s back-catalogue.
That is in no means a bad thing, or a criticism – because the girls work very well with the defined sound. It has those Disclosure hallmarks – a very simple, yet effective, catchy beat, that at first does give off a strong 00’s vibe to me.
Busy Boy continues that simplicity, with an almost common bassline and kick drums, however I’m not really complaining because they offer a solid base for the song to build from.
We have a feature on Catch Up, as Swae Lee offers his vocals. It is the first and only time we hear the girls separate, but overall this song kinda just washed over me without leaving a proper impression.
That is a slight trend to the last leg of the album, with Lonely falling into the same trap. Overwhelmed is largely forgettable about from the harmonising vocals that aptly become overwhelming to the ear.
We are taken back to an old-school sound on Don’t Make It Harder On Me, an insightful track about a former potential suitor catching the eye after you’ve settled down with someone. The whole track features complimenting instruments, with a supple bassline, prominent drums and some lovely strings.
Overall this shows a cohesive and solid sound from the sisters, more than justifying their perceived roles as protégées of Beyonce, who spotted the girls at a young age and has had them tour with her twice.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this cemented them in the mainstream, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next for the pair.
Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album highlights a singer-songwriter coming into her own, detailing the influences and questions that impact her music the most.
Despite only being 25 and on her second album, Phoebe Bridgers has worked on two other projects inbetween her two studio albums, boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Centre.
On top of that she also lent her vocals to a few songs on The 1975’s latest project, including the single Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America.
And whilst the band projects she has worked on, including her solo work, are based in indie-rock sounds, the way she moulds herself around collaborators is a real strength of hers.
Punisher is more than a sum of its parts – at times showing a minamilist, stripped back, vulnerable side, others a total outpouring of emotions via overwhelming instrumentals.
It’s no surprise to me that the artist tributed by the titular track, Punisher, is Elliott Smith – the king of emo indie-folk brought to life with little fanfare or instrumentals. His combination of raw musical and emotions is an apparent influence on the project as a whole.
However, to pretend that this album is like-for-like, or directly lifted from Smith’s playbook would be disingenuous towards both artists. From the opening interlude track, DVD Music, filled with poetic violins, there is a high – and polished – standard of production.
With Smith’s self-titled project in mind, part of the charm of that album was the loose and amateur feel to it – but there is a decent budget here, utilised to full effect.
Some of the little details are similar – quite often you can hear the scraping of fingers on the guitar neck that populated Smith’s work, subtle and discreet enough to be charming and genuine, rather than shoddy playing.
After the almost sinister yet sombre atmosphere generated with the opening instrumental, the first track Garden Song is far more upbeat in nature.
There’s a warmth to the sound, but it also retains the spacious and hollow feeling of the interlude.
The duet during the chorus is so lovely – the deeper male voice, provided by Bridger’s tour manager, offers a lovely contrast and sounds brilliant. The male voice is almost a shadow of Bridgers’ lighter vocals.
Bridgers’ singing on this just seems effortless the entire way through this project – with just enough force behind it when she wants and needs it.
The following track, Kyoto, continues the upbeat trend, with uptempo horns that start of subtle, before slowly becoming more attention grabbing further into the track. Here Bridgers is utilising her voice with different levels of impact, creating an emotional vocal track.
The voice manipulation at the start of Punisher creates an impersonal view, fitting for a track about a person Bridgers never met. Here Bridgers is talking about Elliott Smith, admitting that due to her idolisation of the man, she is a superfan who would talk his ear off if they ever had met.
It’s such an interesting concept to come from someone who is famous themselves – a celebrity who is adored but also adores other celebrities.
Halloween features those minimalist guitars – sounding like just enough pressure and force is being applied to produce the notes needed. There’s some really interesting intstruments chosen here – either a wind-inspired synth or a wind-instrument manipulated in a certain way, which I can’t quite place.
The best I can describe this song is by labelling it as soft yet purposeful.
Chinese Satellite sees Bridgers pine for something to believe in, which to me is such a powerful and interesting topic. Tension builds thanks to the drums, and it feels like we’re going to have a loud burst of sound and energy. However, it is instead translated into some mournful violins, which die down to give way for the percussion once more.
Moon Song eschews traditional song formatting for a very linear take, a straight take on story telling. Here we hear those screeches of the guitar most apparently, with the gentle cymbals in the background. As the song progresses, you can hear the emotion in Bridgers’ voice build.
A simple base of guitars is built upon for Savior Complex, with an array of different instruments operating in the background, softly supplementing the song. For large portions of this project the focus is on Bridger’s vocals and lyrics, and it really is allowed to shine throughout.
The teetering, almost teasing drums and percussion at the start of I See You foreshadows the eventual burst of energy near the end of the song.
Banjo doesn’t always mean a song is country, but the string-fulled atmosphere of Graceland Too draws from the genre. Again there are some subtle production choices, such as the organ synths hidden behind the guitars and violins that really garnish the track as a whole.
The slight manipulation at the start of I Know The End reoccurs throughout as the song whirs to life, a ballad that eventually builds into a semi-orchestral ending for the LP.
You can feel the power building as more instruments are brought in, with horns, heavier percussion and strings really bringing a sense of grandiosity to a fairly minimal project.
It ends in a cacophony of sound and chants, before descending into screams and the raspy, hoarse sounds of a voice that can scream no longer.
Overall Bridgers proves that she can fly solo when needed, work well as a team, use very little to do a lot, or use a lot to make a masterpiece. Truly one of 2020’s best albums so far, and well worth a listen.
Armand Hammer come through with another solid project, refining the sound they are known for without really pushing the boundaries in terms of innovation.
14 tracks and 43 minutes flies by through this project, an engrossing album that knows where it is going and doesn’t rush towards it.
Despite how quickly the opening leg of the album passes by, there are a few memorable moments in the first five tracks. Be it the repetitive strings of the opening track Bitter Cassava, the dark and brooding sound of the guitars on Leopards, or the almost harrowing wind instrument-like synths on Pommelhorse, the variety and constant switch-up of instruments used builds a sonic blanket that envelops the artist.
The strength of the beats are bolstered by superb, colourful, introspective lyrics throughout.
They lean towards almost being non-sensical at times, but at its best it creates clear and vivid imagery, for example billy woods’ first verse on Charms:
To list all the examples of clever wordplay and world building via lyrics would be to quote the majority of the album; even when the pair go off on separate tangents, the picture they paint is strong in the listener’s mind.
I won’t go into the story of the tiger from the album artwork; an interview sample in the outro of Pommelhorse does that easily. Basically, someone thought it would be a great idea to keep a Tiger in an apartment.
As the interviews fades away to make way for the next track, we get a build up of jittering drums that become the background of the mean and menacing track Leopards.
This album broaches topics including slavery, such as on King Tubby, religion, both Christianity and the customs of Ancient Egyptians, and the fleeting careers of African-American NFL players. The themes are wide, and whilst the album is rooted in a similar, dingy vibe throughout, it isn’t exactly the most cohesive of projects.
The frequent habits of ending tracks on unconnected interview excerpts such as Pommelhorse, Slewfoot and Charms, which whilst interesting, really don’t help the general feeling of a lack of cohesion between songs.
Sometimes the pair’s lyrics diverge totally, and it feels like they aren’t even discussing the same topics directly. That being said, sometimes the hyperbole, metaphor and similes are cut through by meticulously crafted story telling, such as on War Stories.
Perhaps the fact that billy woods has both a verse and a hook, but even Elucid’s lyricism is at its strong on the track.
“Out here chatting like my MAC gently weeps ” a reference to two tracks off of the Beatles’ White album is such a smart combination, and whilst his lyrics are more abstract than his partner, it works to produce the best track of the album. I like the cowbells sparsed throughout, as well.
Features are frequent on the project, with Pink Siifu‘s nasally chorus on the opener, the stuttered flow of Quelle Chris on Frida, guest artists are used as tools and samples almost – fairly detached from the artists as a whole.
This is a beautiful sounding albums – but there doesn’t appear to be much under the surface-level appreciation of the crafting of tracks. The production is near flawless, with little to critique.
Most tracks show little progression beyond the opening 30 seconds, although Frida is a notable exception with its distortion of the sample and flow change-up.
As a whole, it is very good. However, for me, it lacks the cohesiveness or overarching theme to tie everything succinctly together. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the lyricism or the beats, it just comes across very one-note at times.
Wiley returns for yet another victory lap, but this time takes the time to champion his fellow veterans, and to shine a light to those waiting in the wings for his crown.
Wiley is a Grime pioneer – it can’t be questioned. Whilst Dizzee Rascal launched his career from the genre (thanks to Wiley), and arguably gave it the first meaningful bit of attention from the media, he quickly moved into more commercial sounds.
Wiley, alongside Giggs, Ghetts and others, stuck to their genre, and carved out the faces on the Mount Rushmore of Grime in the process.
And whilst we’re arguably approaching a third and fourth wave of grime artists, the old heads still remain very relevant in the game.
After dropping arguably his biggest hit ever, Boasty, a features-loaded dancehall inspired track, Wiley proved that he can cater to a mainstream audience – when he wants to.
Despite the rise of grime stars and the genre as a whole, Wiley is still concerned about the longevity of the genre.
Whilst it is true that the jungle-inspired beats are being slowly replaced with more American influences, and many artists are moving towards the new genre of Afroswing and its Dancehall roots, the scene still feels relatively strong.
There are some notable big names missing if this was meant to be the Allstars of Grime, but after Wiley seemingly fighting every fellow star at the end of last year, that isn’t surprising.
But there are 30 artists on here – ranging from both of the Newham Generals, Footsie and DDouble E, fellow fathers of the genre, to new blood such as AJ Tracey’s cousin Big Zuu.
Overall, this project is 22 tracks long. To its credit, this feels like an important moment in the history of grime – not just a passing of the torch, but a snapshot of everything that brought the genre to this point.
The opening five tracks fly-by but quickly establish what this project’s mission statement is.
In the opening song aptly named Intro, where Wiley goes solo, he quips:
This is clearly a passion project for the 41 year-old, who has genuine concerns about the future of a genre built partly off his work.
The Game follows, and is somehow another solo song despite the heavy feature list – and again Wiley highlights his standing in the genre, pointing out that he came before even fellow legends Ghetts and Kano.
If there was any doubt about the intentions of this project, the title of Protect the Empire banishes them.
This track masterfully combines the concept of being on top of the genre, whilst encouraging the next generation once more to step-up.
Fellow oldheads Jammer and K9 back up the sentiment on a very well rounded track.
Yes, at times, the project feels very bloated. The pacing is fantastic – no track overstays its welcome, an no track is longer than four minutes. Whilst cramming 30 features in sometimes becomes detrimental, it produces my favourite moment of the album.
The star-studded Eskimo Dance is only three minutes and half long, the classic length of a single, but there are twelve MCs spitting bars over beats made by thirteen producers.
This is where the preservation of old-grime tradition comes in – rarely seen any more, but this format of MCs having the mic for just eight bars before handing it over to the next was once a frequent fixture of the scene.
Referred to as an “8-bar rally”, the energy on this infectious and never stops.
Delusion, K9, Capo Lee, Flowdan, Jammer, Ten Dixon, Ears, Jammz, Breeze, Big Swingz and Tempa T (in that order) feature, and with the beat switching up for each artist, there is a uniqueness and personality to each MC.
The result is one of my favourite tracks of the year so far.
Alla Dem sees Wiley joined by Riko Dan for just the chorus and the repetition of one line, but this is Wiley bragging about himself.
There’s a fine line between pointing out that the genre was built by Wiley and his contemporaries, and boasting of your own accomplishments and talents.
This is the latter, with Wiley showing off his flow.
One half of the Newham Generals, features on Bars, one of the more forgettable tracks on the album. It is not a bad song per se, but it is a lot more subdued, with simple flows over a very dark and brooding beat that sounds more from the early noughties.
Perhaps for fear of missing out, D Double E’s partner in crime Footsie joins in on the next track, alongside Goldie1 and Flirta D.
Family brings back a bit of energy, with a subtle jungle flavour to the synths and bass, coupling with the four MCs to create a threatening sound.
Wiley switches up the flow completely on This Is It, a more personal self-reflection. Nowhere near as braggadocious or concerned with the state of grime, this is Wiley discussing his fears and thoughts.
Bruce Wayne returns to the more familiar theme of being the creator of a genre, in a far more defensive tone, with links back to the beef he shared with Stormzy and Nolay.
K9 and Jammer return, joined by GHSTLY XXVII for Starring, another track analysing the MCs stature in the scene.
Amsterdam sees Wiley sample his old song, Morgue, which was very much an old-school, more electronic vibe grime track.
Overall the song is decent, but if I was trimming the project down, it would probably end up on the cutting room floor.
The next few tracks sees Wiley discuss those closest to him – firstly his partner, himself, and then his son. Again, Balance doesn’t totally fit the track listing, but is a passable song with a lovely featured chorus from Aisa.
Free Spirit is another self-reflection, a slower track, that once more is by no means a bad song, but it does lean more towards filler.
Whilst we’ve seen family members share stages, tracks and fame in the grime scene, we’re yet to see a father and his son in the game – and that’s exactly what Wiley envisages his son picking up the mic too, on Light Work.
South London and West London, unsurprisingly, feature MCs from the respective areas of the UK’s capital. Definitely designed to showcase the younger MCs on this track, they do their job well.
Big Zuu, Direman, GHSTLY XXVII & K9 come first, on West London, before the South Londoners come through – Blessed UK, Crafty 893, Faultsz, Jon E Clayface & Ten Dixon all feature.
Overall, I really like the idea, and the execution. Not quite a rally, but everything flows well over interesting beats.
The final track, Press Record, is just Wiley spitting over the instrumental of Khalid’s Right Back.
Once more Wiley turns inwards, talking about his struggles and experiences throughout his career. It really feels like this, along with the other more sentimental tracks, could have been saved for a more cohesive record, but if this is the last project we hear from the veteran, it makes sense to release it before he retires.
Overall this project will go down in the history of grime. A classic not because of its quality, of which there is plenty, but mainly for the statement it makes and the bookmark it places in the current story of the genre.
If this really is Wiley’s last album, then it is a fitting reflection of a true UK music legend.