"it just warmed you up and made you feel as good as church letting out." --Mark twain

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I.
There’s a certain aesthetic in songs like Sylver’s “Turn The Tide”, ATC’s “Around The World” and O-Zone’s “Dragostea Din Tei”.  This is a feeling of short-bursted adoration for an intangible, ineffable bliss.  The problem is, the songs generally don’t sustain the intensity for the duration of the entire song; instead, just for the opening vocal hook.  By itself, these hooks welcome and transcend criticism altogether.  By being so perfect and setting the standard so impossibly high, it’s hard for the instrumental sections to not seem like obligatory fanfare, rather than an extension of the party itself.  They end up seeming comedic: like they were always destined, by never meant for anything beyond, internet memes and SoundCloud remixes.

II.
It’s a crystalized, digitized room we find ourselves in.  In this mess of chaos and confusion, I see you.  You are the sound that has always been there, but this time, you’re delivering on a promise you tried to deliver so many times before — this time, it’s different.  Truth-be-told, there’s hardly a way to sustain your intensity: the honeymoon period is what it is and I accept that.  I know that we’re past the peak and sailing towards mutually assured destruction.  We’re practically sprinting for it — “Beautiful” is the sonic representation of this idea.

III.
Looking at you actually increases the likelihood that the moment will pass.  I want to sit here in this in-between space, never letting go.  I don’t want to move forward.  I don’t want you to move forward.  I don’t want either of us to say a thing.  I don’t even want you or I to acknowledge the weight of this hesitation.  I just want to exist forever in this still life.  Though painted, we are still resting present — we are choosing to stand still.  We are locked in an embrace of true love — a love with no need for consummation.  A love that is instantaneous — it is of first sight and it is of never leaving that first sight.  We are locked in the stare of the moment; embracing the wow that is perfection, knowing it will fade and disintegrate the moment either one of us makes a move.  Our stars have crossed, interlocked and for once, we’re not letting go.

Listen: “Beautiful

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It’s Eminem’s natural lyrical prowess which turns otherwise sleepy beats into gen-u-wine classics.  There are hooks here that work mainly because he’s on the track and as a result, this album zooms by, providing insight where you’d least expect it.  It’s easy to see why Dre signed Em based on this tape, because Eminem’s presence improves just about every aspect of every song.

Additionally, in an era which has long moved-past Golden Age Hip Hop, Infinite — Mathers’ tribute to the sound — is refreshing, rather than dated.  Because the album was made DURING Hip Hop’s second golden age, there’s an authenticity here that’s simply not present in contemporary tributes (like Joey Bada$$).  The album, ironically, ends up feeling like the classic it was trying so hard to be.

Listen: “Never 2 Far

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To understand my feelings on this, just look at the cover artwork — a woman throwing her hands up to the lord, letting everything go.  Church is in session and Soulja Boy’s at the stand.  Nicki Minaj reaches critical heights before somewhat self-sabotaging herself with a few lines — but it’s nothing she doesn’t recover from.  She’s on fire with extreme motivation: trolling everyone while still providing a religious experience for those who have “Turn Down For What” as their personal mantra.

By making music in this manner, Nicki Minaj embraces 2014 without hinging to the past.  Low-key, Soulja Boy has been rising steadily since his major label debut.  ”Trigger Finger”, from Lil Wayne’s I Am Not A Human Being II, was one of the top 5 verses of 2013 for me — a song which, like Yasss Bish, embraces the moment and tries something fresh.  Soulja Boy has amassed a dark horse-underground of singles — well, almost an EP’s worth — and for Nicki Minaj to work with him so prominently shows serious insight.

Nicki Minaj, one of the most powerful female voices in the musical zeitgeist and single-handedly responsible for bringing women back into the rap conversation, is pretty daring.  For someone who gave into label pressure, or perhaps just guilty pleasure (via Pink Friday), she sure has an uncanny ability to make somewhat Warholian statements.  To make a song like “Stupid Hoe” or “Yasss Bish” isn’t some light-hearted undertaking — you risk your entire persona in the hopes people will empathize with the life-affirming nature of trap music.

Fortunately, every time those snares hit, you feel God’s hand on your shoulder — except he’s yelling at you: “Turn the fuck up and embrace the moment!!”  The cover art signals Team Nicki is hyper-conscious of the song’s sanctimonious nature.  This implies she is also aware (and okay with) the reception of “Stupid Hoe” — one of the most widely-watched and unanimously-downvoted videos on YouTube.  However, by simultaneously releasing several styles of music — traditional rap (“Lookin’ Ass”), stadium trap (this) and her take at singer/songwriting (“Pills N Potions”) — her fanbase can tailor their Nicki Minaj experience to personal preference.

Perhaps this is so obvious, it’s hiding in plain sight, but Nicki Minaj represents the feminine perspective.  In rap music (and arguably the world at large) this is the voice of the underdog, and this empowerment is easy to empathize with (particularly, once you’re aware of it).  All her music is on your side, like most rap music, but with Nicki Minaj, you really have no idea what she’s going to release next.  Sure, it’s probably going to be “rap” or possibly “pop”, but beyond that I wouldn’t be surprised if she dropped some prog shit in a couple years.

Listen: “Yasss Bish

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While I feel Future’s joy is self-evident, it dawns upon me not everyone is talking about this album.  I am personally torn whether or not to give this album higher marks (is it actually perfect, I’m just missing some things?) or if I’m on-point in restraining myself.  What’s not up-for-debate is that Honest consists of 1-3+ fantastic songs.  What’s also not up-for-debate is the album’s contemporary status – this is new music, representative of this year and the next few upon the horizon.  For whatever reason, no albums seem to have sounded quite like this, prior to this year. 

I’m not holding it against you, but people are obviously enjoying these tunes, myself included.  It’s very rare I find Future’s lyrics LITERALLY insightful — it’s the emotional nature of his delivery.  This provides a depth and completeness not possible with traditionally lyric-oriented rap.  Future’s certainly gotten better at the conceptual side of song-writing: his singing feels purposeful and his themes are sharper than they were on Pluto.  None-the-less, Future isn’t exactly the prototype for how you should vocalize lyrics, but because of his improvement, he’s ended up making futuristic, original music.  Everyone borrows from everyone; it’s about the touch YOU add to the music, and Future’s is a fresh, motivational perspective.

Despite all that, it seems we only come back to the same sort of “I’m too pretentious to listen to this”-attitude of the naysayers.  LISTEN to “Honest”.  LISTEN to “Blood, Sweat, Tears”.  You COULDN’T have KNOWN what I did for this!  You aren’t even listening!  Come on!  Stop thinking about where the music comes from; the attitude; the literal lyrical content; how the beat was made; the ego of any and all performers within — just LISTEN TO THE SOUND.  I find it MIND-BLOWING anyone who actually LISTENED TO THE MUSIC WITHOUT SUBCONSCIOUSLY BLOCKING THE FREQUENCIES could dislike “I Won”.

Speaking of which, let’s not forget the most atmospheric-sounding R&B since The Weeknd, encompassing tracks 6 through 9: I Won —> Never Satisfied —> I Be U.  Some called out the fact that Drake’s verse ended early, when in fact only about a second was ‘cut-off’ — had that second remained in, it would’ve sounded complete WITH the fade-out.  As is, it (intentionally) leaves one unsatisfied.  You still hear his entire verse, but that little jarring of what was sonically-sound leaves you feeling empty – as if you hadn’t just heard the last two minutes of music.  After the abrupt-ending, Future shares possibly the most positive song he’s made: “I Be U”, a free-spirited, abstract lullaby.

Peaks are nice, but it’s even nicer having someone with you during those peaks.  To experience something amazing for the first time, and to then look into the eyes of the person with you and know they feel the same way.  You see eye-to-eye; your stare encompasses everything either of you have ever felt.  Not a word is spoken — in the silence, there is unison.  No one wants to speak, but it’s overwhelming to keep such powerful feelings silent.  You have to let them know, for certain, that you are right here.  I see you, right now, right here with me.  I see you.

Listen: “Honest

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Almost flipping the tracklist backwards, Pluto 3D places the few highlights from Pluto alongside his three newest tracks (“First Class Flights”, “Jealous” & “My”), each reaching higher than any of the original 15 songs.  Additionally, the decision to remix two of the better stand-outs from Pluto (“Same Damn Time” & “Neva End” — the latter featuring the lovely Rowland at her best), increases the album’s potency.  As a 5-track EP, Pluto 3D is infinitely better than Pluto and provides the perfect introduction to Future’s balance between mind-numbing melody and bass-centric trap.

Listen: “Jealous

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Post-electronic; somewhat post-music or rather, anti-music.  This is music for active listening and, for those who invented the culture I’m now commentating upon years-late, participation.  The more in-your-face (and downright pop-friendly) trap-electronic comes from a similar perspective of non-stop peaks and endless energy.  The difference between trap-electronic and this is simple: trap-electronic feels like a brightly-lit spectacle, whereas Rashad & Co. “don’t give a fuck.”

The reason footwork comes off so bizarre to most ‘serious music fans’ is because this is basically jazz music you can dance to.  I feel blessed to have experienced this album; to have a glimpse into a world I would’ve never seen first-hand (only accessibly imitated by Diplo-clones).  This is the real deal folks.  If you really want to experience something new, take a sip from DJ Rashad’s Double Cup.

Listen: “I Don’t Give A Fuck

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Over an hour and a half of fresh new freestyles over some of the hottest beats in contemporary hip hop.  He’s hungrier than he’s ever been since Tha Carter III and with daughters, jail time, stunts with death and bad reception to his recent music, he has more reason than ever to show and prove. 

Considering no one’s asking for hip hop music longer than 45 minutes, this is about two albums worth of new material.  He’s still in love with rap — new and old (his C.R.E.A.M. remix comes packed between hot 100 hits like UOENO and Feds Watchin’).  In his own words, he’s competing for his fan’s attention-span and it’s obvious when he presents so many star-studded songs (both production-wise and feature-wise) back-to-back.

At the end of the day, I still find his off-the-dome, freestyle-centric, anything-goes-approach refreshing.  There’s an interview where a reporter labels his music as ‘jazz’ and, taking offense, he ends the interview — this categorization is not too far-off, considering his level of improvisation.  Lil Wayne may be many things, but as this tape shows us, he’s as grateful as he is dedicated.

Listen: “U.O.E.N.O. (Lil Wayne Remix)

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Deathly, amber wastelands; an abandoned highway cracking with vegetation — these are the images that pop into the mind when Tomorrow’s Harvest tunes in-and-out of its own frequency.  The album is layered over in a static more prominent than even The Campfire Headphase's cosmic reverb.  With every interference; every hiss of white noise, the branding behind Tomorrow’s Harvest seems less and less cryptic. 

It’s not just internet noise — it’s something to visualize when listening to the album.  Tomorrow’s Harvest has a range of imagery in both actual artwork and viral promotion, but at the sum of its parts is one common theme: unease.  It’s not so much vengeance or rebellion against something as it is an expression of anxiety, regardless the cause.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Warp’s marketing campaign, it feels visually faithful to what is heard when pressing play.   As a radar picks up on something and static overwhelms the sound, it’s easy to picture a flash of desert; an abandoned gas station; a hazy sky over an even hazier city.  It is in these moments when this imagery feels less viral and more reminiscent of a concept album.

Their 2002 release, fan-beloved Geogaddi, also brainwashes association of artwork and viral imagery with the sound itself.  Overall, Geogaddi emphasized sheer terror over ambient introspection, which is where Boards of Canada’s newest album succeeds.  Both albums deal with unease and general fear, but while Geogaddi is a violent event with many causalities, Tomorrow’s Harvest is a memorial for the many who died.

Our hands reach for the dead, but they’re never coming back.
So we are left here, waiting for tomorrow’s harvest.

Listen: “Reach for the Dead

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From the prog-hop centerpiece that is the Shabazz Palaces’ re-working of “New Town Burnout” to Traxman’s infectious 4/4 strut, Monkey Been To Burn Town EP is an eclectic, joyful listen.  It’s rare when Animal Collective releases something relatively accessible, but Burn Town re-presents rather daunting material in an easy-going, crisp light.  As if a reaction to Animal Collective’s abstraction, every track bumps whether you’re a fan of the original material or not.  The four artists chosen for these remixes reside in the far leftfield of their respective scenes and, as if challenged to ground themselves, have delivered some of the catchiest music this side of AC’s discography.


Listen: “New Town Burnout (Shabazz Palaces Remix)

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Random Access Memories is somewhat “cheesy” upon first-glance, until you recognize the rather self-aware nature of this practical tribute to Disco; to another time; to an analogue mentality.  It is in this light where this album can be seen as profound, but the line between these two perspectives is hardly apparent.  Ultimately this works best when you aren’t placing it on a pedestal, which is exactly the context in which this album has been presented.

The trap(-electronic) influence on “Doin’ It Right” is a pleasant surprise and the album ends on an extremely high-note: “Contact”.  I’m predicting they follow-up the cleanly yin of RAM up with a gritty, Homework-like yang.  It will be interesting to see how time treats this experience-of-an-album, which is itself fixated on the notion of timelessness.

Listen: “Contact