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Frank Ocean - BlondeQuestLove says, “When you live your life through records, the records are a record of your life.” The best albums are the ones that find you, and stick with you, when you need them most. As rumors of Frank Ocean’s upcoming album surfaced online last spring, I was madly in love with my then-boyfriend. A few months later, he moved across the country for grad school, and during the months that the project was pushed back, I had my first real experience with heartbreak. Now, as I’m still moving past that loss, Blonde couldn’t have found me at a better time.

Rather than going through common love tropes, (getting laid, falling in love, cheating, etc.) Ocean captures the complexity of modern relationships, and their significance in relation to our mental health. With lines like, “We’re not in love, but I’ll make love to you,” and “I’m not him, but I’ll mean something to you,” on "Nikes", he holds a light to hookup culture, and the complications that come into play when feelings get involved. In that same vein, "Facebook Story" questions the role that social media plays in communication and relationships. These nuances give a different and honest perspective on modern love, making Blonde timely and relatable.

The record is far more stripped-down than its predecessor, Channel Orange, focusing more directly on vocals and lyricism, leaving us with something that feels vulnerable and personal. In 17 tracks, Ocean demonstrates an incredible range, as he transitions from R&B to acoustic, electronica and spoken word.

"Ivy" is a stand out track, taking us through Frank’s first experience with love. He reminisces on the happy memories, while also reflecting on the relationship’s demise, as he says, “I could hate you now – It’s quite alright to hate me now.” Ephemerality and loss are two major themes on the record, as Ocean mourns the broken ties to people that were once so important to him.

Solitude is another major theme throughout the project, as Ocean takes us with him on late night drives, acid trips, and solo smoke sessions. "Solo" is another stand out track, as he draws the connection between his solitude and depression, blurring the lines between being, “solo,” and “so low.”  He reflects on his loneliness as he smokes weed alone, repeating one of the most poignant lines on the record. “It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire – Inhale, in hell there’s heaven.” These moments feel like a nod to everyone else driving all night, or smoking weed alone, as they look for an escape from the darkness of their own psyche. We’ve all been there… right?... right?

A few final things to note: The "Nikes" visual is incredible. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check it here. I'm tempted to talk about “Solo (Reprise),” which has one of the best Andre 3000 features in a minute, but I’ll leave that to Jaison...

Aight. It’s your boy Jaison here, guest reviewing track of 10 of Blonde; “Solo (Reprise)”, featuring (more like starring) Andre 3000. Disclaimer: By my own admission, I stan out for Three Stacks, as in, I’ve shed tears to Aquemini and shit. This review might just go off the rails pretty soon.
If you know hip-hop, you know Andre and Outkast gave a face to Atlanta and Southern rap as a whole. Now he’s on some Master Roshi type of shit; went and disappeared from the game to go live in the woods or whatever the fuck, establishing himself as a mythical figure of sorts. But when Andre comes back? Homie comes back with a vengeance. Word to mother, I don’t know what 3K’s been up to, but everything the homie touches is gold, b. I’m starting to get the idea that this dude only features on like 3 or 4 tracks a year because he literally spends the whole year working on these 3 or 4 tracks, and it shows. Props to Andre’s versatility as a rapper. Lyrically speaking, “Solo (Reprise)” is radically different from something like, “Hello”, which was just released last year. This dude’s greatest ability is his wordplay and Stacks crafts some absurd ass rhymes from breaking up words into syllables or switching up pronunciations in a way that comes off organically. Homie’s also gifted with the ability to change up the rhythm on a fly, going from external rhymes to internal rhymes and back again.

You can see this here, in what I think is the most impressive section on a lyrical level:

"Watchin' the summer come close to an end After 20 years, I'm so naive
I was under the impression
That everyone wrote they own verses"

"It's comin' back different and, yeah, that shit hurts me I'm hummin' and whistlin' to those not deserving..."

"That’s not even giving him credit on his ability as a storyteller, weaving vivid imagery into his flow:"

"So low my halo stay way low, it feels like it's bent I've stumbled and lived every word"

Anyway, bottom line, Andre 3000 still writes dope shit. He hasn’t fallen off, and he wants us to know that.

On the whole, Blonde hits every mark. It’s rare that we, as listeners, are let in to see such a raw, flawed and human side of our favorite artists. While there aren’t any pop singles on the project, each track is purposeful and complex. With incredible lyricism and vulnerability, this record hits close to home, and will be in rotation for me for a long time. ZOE

RIYL: Odd Future, Outkast, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe

Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 15

Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book: As someone who grew up just north of Chicago, Chance the Rapper is someone whose music means a lot to many of my friends and members of my community. When this album dropped in May, it was basically all that my roommates listened to for several months, so I've heard Coloring Book from front to back an insane number of times. As a result, I’m not as high on this album as I was when it was first released five monthes ago, but even after listening to it on repeat for essentially the entire summer, there are still some tracks that stand out to me as major highlights. “No Problems” is probably the standout track of the album for most people (#Pray4Weezy), but tracks like “Angels” and “All Night” do a really great job incorporating soul and gospel into Chance’s sound without being as overpowering as other tracks on the album. Basically, if you liked Chance or Chicago hip hop already, you’ll like this album too. It’s honestly as simple as that. JACK

RIYL: Kanye West, SaveMoney (Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, Towkio, etc) 

Recommended Tracks: 2, 5, 8, 10

Vince Staples - Prima Donna: Vince dropped his latest EP, Prima Donna last month. I won’t front— I didn’t really listen to Summertime ’06 or Hell Can Wait. But as far as I can tell as a simple boy just jumping onto the Vince Staples wave, it’s tight. I’ll happily jump onto this bandwagon. To my virgin ears, Prima Donna sounds relatively angry, abrasive, and bothered compared to his earlier works; he shouts rhymes through beats that take on a distorted and at times lo-fi quality. I really fuck with all the weird ass samples littered throughout each track. This shit that sounds vaguely like a subway train blurring through an underground tunnel, and chopped up vocal samples that appear and disappear from time to time. Or is that just me?

The homie also spits in a weird, persistent, hypnotic way. Vince hammers verses upon verses into my ears at similar paces and rhyme schemes, creating a sort of cadence I can march too. This plus all the catchy hooks give the songs a kinda sorta anthem-y vibe.

Another thing I fuck with are these depressing ass interludes, that sound like voicemails Vince left to himself, which are quiet and dronish in comparison to the “loudness” of the other tracks. All in all, this shit gets me on edge, but I mean that in a good way. JAISON

RIYL: Earl Sweatshirt, Denzel Curry, Schoolboy Q

Recommended Tracks: 2, 4, 5

Travis Scott: Birds in the Trap Sing McNight: Travis Scott’s sophomore studio album Birds in the Trap Sing McNight, while unfortunately feeling like more of a mixtape, still contains a lot of great music and will likely keep fans happy for now. I’ll get my only criticism off my chest quickly: this record definitely lacks the cohesive artistic vision of Rodeo or even Days Before Rodeo. However, it still features the haunting and headbanging production we’ve come to expect from Travis Scott projects, in addition to a surprising range of high powered features from artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi.

As usual, Birds in the Trap doesn’t contain a Travis verse I don’t like. The album starts off absolutely snapping with “the ends” featuring Andre 3000. Another standout track is “outside,” which includes a pretty dank verse from 21 Savage. “biebs in the trap” was one of my favorite songs on the album until I found out that the artist on the song is not, in fact, Justin Bieber, which is highly whack. Definitely give this record a listen, there is tons of good stuff on here and I think everyone will have a different favorite song! CHRISTIAN

RIYL: Kanye West, Young Thug, Metro Boomin

Recommended Tracks: 1, 10, 14

LSDXOXO - Fuck Marry Kill:  Back in May, the legendary New York club night/scene/crew GHE20G0TH1K put out their first digital release, Fuck Mary Kill  by LSDXOXO. If you’ve never heard of or listened to ballroom music before, this is a pretty good place to start. If you don’t know what I mean by ballroom, go watch Paris is Burning; it’ll teach you everything you need to know and the origin of ‘shade’. 

Anyway, back to the review. Fuck Mary Kill is a solid stream of ‘ha’s, breakbeats, and salacious vocal samples. Stand out tracks include “Love Taps” (probably the best place to start if all of this is new), a track that fervently dives straight into what are probably the sharpest beats of 2016. Also notable is LSD’s remix of “Freestyle 4”. Yeah that track from Pablo. I actually didn’t know it was Kanye for the first two months I listened to it. Turns out he would make a great ballroom MC. The rest of the album consists of mainly great-for-middle-of-the-mix tracks that will probably get stuck in your head if you listen to them more than once.

TL;DR: As probably one of the first proper ballroom “albums”, Fuck Mary Kill is a solid release. Plus it comes with plenty of ‘ha’s and breakbeats for your listening enjoyment. Or bedroom voguing, if anyone out there does that. CAMERON

RIYL: Le1f, Lotic, Jam City’s Classical Curves, Kanye I guess?

Recommended Tracks: 1, 4, 6, 7

Mitski - Puberty 2: On the first track of Puberty 2 when Mitski sings "I told him I'd do anything to have him stay with me," she's not talking about a guy, she's talking about happiness. In this album, she questions what will make her happy. Is it a man, traveling the world, or living the American Dream? Can ever even be truly happy while living with a mental illness?

The first track, "Happy", starts out with a Civil War-like drum beat — pretty fitting for an album about her own war with happiness. On this track, Mitski likens happiness to some guy who is just trying to get in her pants during a one-night stand — sweet at first (“he bought cookies on the way”), promising emotional support ("he told me it'll all be okay"), short-lived (“I was in the bathroom. I didn’t hear him leave”) and ultimately more trouble than it’s worth (“I turned around to see all the cookie wrappers ... I sighed and mumbled to myself 'again I have to clean'”). In the end he ends up taking her heart, for which she says she will have no use after he leaves. After all, what's the point of even having a heart if she can't be with him? Now she has to clean up the cookie wrappers AND her own residual mess of emotions from the relationship's failure. Great. Throughout the album whenever she describes relationships with crushes, I can’t help but think back to the first song and wonder if she's talking about happiness. On “A Lovely Feeling,” she describes staying up late at a party in the hopes her crush asks her to go home with him, going out of her way to be with him —and, by extension, to be happy. I think she’s talking about both. 

But what does it mean to be truly happy? We all know that being an ideal American means pursuing the capitalistic American dream: getting a job, buying a home, getting married and having exactly 2.2 children according to the U.S. Census. This dream promises to bring happiness to whoever achieves it. Mitski's punchy, not-so-patriotic lyrics are reminiscent of St. Vincent singing, “Oh America, can I owe you one?” But this album feels a bit different; it’s not coming from a Texas-born American like St. Vincent, but from a half-Japanese woman from an immigrant background who lived all over the world before moving to New York. On “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” Mitski boldly states that she wants to travel the world even if it means not being able to pay rent. She sings of the stress associated with the pursuing of happiness and the American Dream, singing that she'd, "Better ace that interview."

This album is a powerful follow-up to last year’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek, which earned top spots on several best-of-2015 lists, including my own. I can tell you that Puberty 2 will definitely be on the top of my best-of list for this year as well. Also, pro-tip: she was really great live when I saw her at the Echoplex this summer (and super nice!), so go check her out next time she comes to L.A. CHRISTINA

RIYL: Angel Olsen, Girlpool, Frankie Cosmos, Diet Cig, St. Vincent

Recommended Tracks: 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10

Young Thug - Jeffrey: "I only know one thing: that I know nothing." -- Plato's account of the Socratic Paradox from Socrates.

"I done put 20 inside the Sig / I pull up on you and pop at your kid / I pull up your block and pop at your wig / I hopped out the Coupe and I'm fresh as a bitch" - Jeffrey Lamar Williams, aka "Young Thug"

"Young Thug has made some impressive attempts so far to become proficient at speaking English" - Sean Morgenthaler, 2016

There exists a time in every human's life where they have to professionally approach something out of left field. Something they know nothing about, a field that they have never trod in before. It is scary, but even on new territory there exists an allure of setting out on untrodden sands.

But when the travelers in those deserts become aware of its inhabitants, they who know their homeland, any misstep they take out of ignorance or otherwise will be looked upon as their last. And so, I have been duly cast out by my tribe to explore the sonic landscape of Young Thug's newest mixtape (that you have to pay for, what is a mixtape these days if you have to pay for it), No, My Name is Jeffery

I've known little to nothing about Young Thug for my entire knowledge of his musical existence. I haven't had the time this week to be able to do my due diligence on researching him —where he comes from, what's his raison d'etre for making music, inspirations, collaborators, etc. To me, Young Thug has always existed as that one rapper who you can play at parties and be satisfied that most people like, but he is also weird enough so that his music and personality are interesting to dissect. 

Frankly, his every release, every collaboration is monitored intensely by music critics who ache at the chance to drop their hot takes upon the unsuspecting masses. Anything I could possibly say about this has been said by many people who have more knowledge than I do. So, this is what I know about Young Thug:

  • He is an Atlanta rapper who has an incredible vocal range 
  • He prides himself on being weird and using language that isn't typical of rappers
  • He has many children
  • He is somewhat of a fashion icon
  • I like "Check", "Best Friend", "Drippin'" and "Numbers"

With that reference point, let's dive in. Blind.

  1. "Wyclef Jean" - Not really into this. Even though Wyclef features on this later, his presence wasn't enough to save his eponymous song. It sounds pretty Young Thug milquetoast, not a lot being done here that particularly stands out to me. The guitar beat seems a bit mismatched. Thugga tries, but I don't think his singing interludes can save this beat from being the sonic equivalent of taking a bath in tapioca.
  2. "Floyd Mayweather" - Okay, a Travis Scott and a Gucci feature in one song? Gotta be good, yeah? Well, I think this might be the worst song on the album and it's primarily Young Thug's fault. He fails to energize the other guys, who are great when they are hyped up, but lowkey tracks just don't suit them. The energy's low on this. 
  3. "Swizz Beats" - Unfortunately, this song wasn't really my thing. The Swizz Beats reference doesn't really have any bearing on the track, which confuses me greatly. It was kinda blasé. He tries to get serious on this, but it comes off as just kinda hammed in.
  4. "Future Swag" - He actually tries to be like Future on this track. It's so against his style and flow, that it's nice to hear that he's trying to change up. But this failed totally. I hope he sticks to falsetto and ad-libs.
  5. "RiRi" - This was the point of the mixtape that I really began to like it. Before, this felt like really fell flat, but Young Thug comes out and kills it on this one. I can hear this song as a really faithful and emotional song for him, even though I have very little idea of what he's talking about. At some points in here, he even indirectly addresses his weakness — namely his inability to trust others and willingness to help out his family monetarily. He also really starts to use his voice as an instrument on this track. Love that. Also have to highlight that he, according to Denzel Jones on Youtube, "sound like a damn seal in the hook." Absolutely hilarious.
  6. "Guwop" - "Guwop" is what I'd come to expect from Thugger at this point. I'm very happy to listen to it, but I'm not able to really say much about this other than I really dig the beat. It's just weird enough, but I think it complements his vocal stylings very well. It's within the style to keep the flow going, but the four note melody within the track keeps me really interested. Nothing to really say about the Quavo/Offset/Young Scooter(?) feature, other than that "they feature".
  7. "Harambe" - This is the absolute best song on the album. I love this, and I will absolutely play it again. I don't think that this song was written about Harambe, as many of these songs seem to have tenuous, if any, connections with their titles. It's a huge banger, and you can hear the amount of vocal strain he's putting on the track. It's quite astounding, and one critic even compared that moment specifically to James Brown. I don't think that that was a bad comparison. There's incredible emotional energy in this track and Mike Will Made It did a great job on the instrumental.
  8. "Webbie" - I like this one as well. This sounds like something I've heard on Barter 6. He squeaks a lot in this track which surprisingly isn't bad to listen to. His ad-lib game is slowly, but strongly improving. As an aside, Lil B is tied with A$AP Ferg for best ad-libs. Keep working on it, Thugger. 
  9. "Kanye West" - I'm a fan. The chorus is really catchy, even though I can't understand what he's saying without lyrics. I like the way the beat's layered and I also like how he complements it, and isn't quite as bold as on some of the other tracks. Wyclef's feature on this is probably the best on the mixtape aside from Travis Scott's.
  10. "pick up the phone" - Surprisingly, this wasn't as much of a banger as I had expected. I've recently come to appreciate Travis Scott as a musician and as a rapper; "Antidote" kills. But, I suppose this wasn't what I'd expected. I've listened to it two days ago, so it hasn't had time to marinate yet, but I might like it come one week from now. For now, it's just so-so. Scott's verse is pretty good, but Thugger's is average.

Overall, knowing no context, I really liked the second half of this mixtape. I would happily listen to that part again. I have a few times since the first time. Also, something that I've picked up on is that Young Thug clearly wants more progeny. There's a subtle theme of impregnation in many of these songs, and I don't know whether others have picked up on that. So there you go: my hot take. Young Thug wants to procreate, badly. SEAN

RIYL: Future, Rich Homie Quan, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert

Recommended Tracks: 5, 7, 8, 10

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Anohni - Hopelessness: Music can serve a multitude of functions within our culture and society, often times it is used to entertain, to satisfy. In other instances a musician may be putting their efforts towards expressing their emotions and thoughts through music, in this albums case, the purpose is to question and inform. Each carefully constructed track attacks political and environmental issues relentlessly, as beautiful as their sound can be the words strike deep. Words sung by Antony Hegarty, a British singer know for her work with Antony and The Johnsons, but this album, working with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, deviates far away from the norm. 

Speaking purely sonically this release is incredibly moving, both producers bring each others distinctive skill set to its maximum degree. Oneohtrix's influence is clearly seen on tracks such as "Obama" in which the production, scratchy and dystopian, seems to scratch its way into the listeners mind, all before opening up to an angelic choir backed by classical pianism, creating a song that travels not only lyrically but tells its own story through Daniel Lopatin's craftsmanship. "Violent Men" similarly offers the same harsh and and ethereal production that builds erratically, looping in an out creating a feeling of uneasiness, something Anohni herself wishes upon a listener she is trying to antagonize into self reflection. Hudson Mohawke, known for his work as a producer for G.O.O.D MUSIC, similarly leaves an immense mark on this albums message. His music is known for sounding exuberant almost, in "Why Did You Separate Me" he builds and builds into a grandiose spectacle of sound that attracts the listener ever closer to Anohni's incredibly tragic lyrics. Throughout the album Anohni castigates a culture that sets out to separate other human beings from each other, one that expulses those different, as an openly transgender performer she sings from an deeply personal perspective. Outside of these two producers contributions the album is very much the magnum opus of Anohni's career thus far, topics she has only touched on in the past she has taken on directly here. Each track has a purpose and delivers with frightening precision, Anohni glides between self realizations of her own sins and exhuming the skeletons of the post 9/11 global political world. 

This album is very difficult to compare to others not just in terms of its message, but its actual sound, what I can tell you is this will be on my top five albums of the year list and is undoubtedly one of the most important works of art I've heard in recent years. Hopelessness exemplifies what music is capable of, it is a far cry from "easy listening". Anohni pushes the medium forward into a space that may not win any Grammy's or other popular music awards, but may make an actual goddamn difference. RAMIRO

RIYL: Antony & the Johnsons, Oneohtrix Point Never, Hudson Mohawke

Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 10