JMSN - Velvet
JMSN is a one of a kind singer. Quietly putting one killer album after another, Christian Berishaj, the man behind JMSN, is primarily a vocalist, but also produces, mixes, and engineers all of his own tracks. JMSN, on his latest album Velvet, has once again delivered a reinvented, silky smooth, soulful, and funky sound that will be the soundtrack to many slow candlelit nights.
I’ve been following JMSN’s progression since close to the very beginning with his debut Priscilla in 2012, a dark, depressed album of lost love and heartbreak. Around the same time, contemporaries like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and Miguel were also just starting to pick up steam, but my sleeper pick was always on JMSN. JMSN’s track record at the time was particularly notable, finding himself on the production and background vocals of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar, a prominent feature on The Game’s Jesus Piece, a fabled collaboration project with Ab-Soul, early work with Kaytranada, and a plethora of other crazy collaborations and co-signs. By the time we get to Velvet, JMSN had already transformed multiple times in style, look, and sound, driven away from the glamor of the mainstream.
Velvet is a pretty apt name for the album, because it is SMOOTH. Imagine this scene: It’s 9PM on a Thursday and you’re at a fancy speakeasy. There’s a soft amber glow to the room, whisky is being served by a bartender in a vest, and you are slow dancing with a mysterious stranger. That’s Velvet. A little over an hour long, Velvet is a slow burn, lengthy but captivating.
The instrumentation is varied, clean, full-bodied, and great throughout. There’s a lot of soft piano, soaring electric guitars, smooth basslines, and retro synths. Almost entirely self produced and with only background features, Velvet is particularly impressive because of its lack of any outside help. Even more impressive, each of his previous albums had a different sound palette, only briefly touching on the style offered on Velvet. He does so many things with his voice, and because of his role as a producer, the instrumentation seems to weave together perfectly with his voice.
JMSN’s voice is fantastic, and he particularly shows off the diversity of his delivery on this album. He uses a pretty insane falsetto on songs like “So Badly” and “Talk is Cheap”, a poetic, almost rap-like cadence on “Levy Pt. 2”, a cool staccato style in “Pose”, and modulates his voice into something entirely different on “Inferno.” While his voice is great, it’s definitely not the powerhouse of others in his lane, and where he really shines is in his songwriting. There’s a lot of really catchy hooks, clever lines, and diverse delivery that really call to your attention throughout the album.
Velvet, however, really lacked strong, interesting subject matter. Velvetis primarily filled with sensual proclamations of love and lust, done in a varied and creative way, but only “Mind Playin’ Tricks”, a song about losing yourself, truly resonated with me. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the songs sonically, but the force behind them left something to be desired.
JMSN isn’t reinventing the wheel with Velvet, in fact, it’s pretty tame in terms of experimentation, but it’s an incredible showcase of musicality and artistry. For all intents and purposes, Velvet is a truly solo album, and the cohesiveness and style of JMSN’s vision is what makes this album special. I love JMSN because he’s focused on putting out his music and isn’t chasing numbers or fame. He’s just a dude trying to sing his heart out.
— Eric Liu
Brockhampton - Iridescence
My listens of Brockhampton’s Iridescence and consequent perusal of the internet for professional opinion on the album were both met with quite a bit of surprise. This album is not “Saturation,” nor is it theThings We Lost In The Fire singles or even their most early work, All-American Trash. It exists as its own beast, a dissonant ringing in your ears that, beneath lukewarm synths and swaying choral samples, gives you the vaguest impression of a Brockhampton album. As much as it pains me to admit, this isn’t going to be another voice in the backlogged mass of internet music reviewers telling you that this album is one of the most profound successes of the year. Despite being a self-proclaimed Brockhampton ride or die, I was left squinting into the void to the outro of "Fabric," searching for some common thread, the je ne sais quoi that upholds every other Brockhampton album, and coming up empty.
Iridescence isn’t bad -- I don’t want anyone to think this is my ultimate hot take -- but it lacks the gravitas that the boyband has deliberately pummeled into every single bass-thumping, ALL CAPS track prior to this collection. SAN MARCOS feels empty, a dazzling array of simplistic guitar chords, autotuned crooning and weepy background vocals that’s meant to distract you from the uncharacteristically wooden lyrics. It almost seems as if it’s trying to mimic the sensation of LAMB, SUMMER and BLEACH but missing the mark, using a choral fadeout and emotional strings to try and pack an emotional punch that they one provided lyrically.
SOMETHING ABOUT HIM falls into the same trap; a serious, synthy slow jam that feigns emotional depth while not necessarily communicating anything groundbreakingly profound. WHERE THE CASH AT feels like a N.E.R.D. B-side, with off-kilter beats and discordant pulses of sound permeating Merlyn’s standout performance. However, its sound doesn’t seem to find its footing alongside the rest of the album, interrupting the flow for experimentalism in a way that doesn’t quite land.
Standouts on the album still provide the listener with that acerbic sonic bite that we’ve all grown to expect from the band -- WEIGHT is a beautiful, genuine piece where frontman Kevin Abstract bares it all in a way deeply reminiscent of his older solo work on American Boyfriend. The lyrics “And every time she took her bra off my dick would get soft/I thought I had a problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming” are especially resonant and capture the essence of the song -- vulnerable but not gimmicky, something that’s rare to find on the album but, in the case of WEIGHT, all of the stars align and grant the listener a soulful, memorable standout track.
Dom and Joba are standout voices on NEW ORLEANS, an upbeat album-opening banger that is the most sonically comparable to theSaturation-era canon. Where Saturation was about being a bad bitch, however, Iridescence tackles being a sad bitch, which is witnessed in this track’s lyrics: condemnation of the millennial generation, fighting to regain their footing after their involvement in the Ameer Vann scandal earlier this year, and a general weariness for the cutthroat nature of their industry.
In J’OUVERT, Joba’s new direction in his vocal brand is a resounding success -- lower pitched, more serious, darker and grounded, he sounds significantly more grown despite the last album being barely a year old. This track also follows the trend of sad bangers, wherein members Matt Champion, Dom McLennon and Joba criticize the shiny, fake veneer of the entertainment world.
TAPE’s lo-fi, nu-jazz-esque beat was an unexpected but not unwelcome diversion from the album that proved the boys hadn’t lost their penchant for stirring, impassioned lyricism. Matt and Dom are standouts on this track, closing out the jam with an overwhelmingly biting dialogue on losing yourself to fame and, consequently, the struggle of finding yourself again.
TONYA, a track they released earlier this summer when they performed it on Fallon, is a distinct diversion from their typical sound and from the album itself. A gorgeous track with beautiful instrumentals, an impeccable beat and candid lyrics discussing how life has changed after success, it feels slightly more traditional and, consequently, out of place on this album. Like many of the other tracks, it disrupts a flow that’s almost there but hasn’t quite hit home, despite being a stunning standalone work.
Iridescence is not my favorite Brockhampton venture -- the theme is there, but the sonic cohesion and lyrical depth sometimes falls short of the work we’ve grown accustomed by seeing from the boys time and time again.
However, this isn’t to say that the album doesn’t provide a thoughtful and prescient message that is all too relevant to the masses of fame-hungry DIYers that plague the internet today. The message, one of uncertainty, discomfort and even regret, was unquestionably received, and each stream revealed a more intimate level of the malaise in which the album was steeped. These boys are tired; of fame, of success, of the money, of all the fake friends and fake love.
Their journey is unique and harrowing and you can hear them struggling with it on this album -- and, perhaps, their inability to totally communicate their feelings is what makes this album complete rather than what pulls it apart at the seams. Use your own judgment and stream Iridescence.
— Jane Keranen
Bonnie Banane & Chassol - Feu au lac
Who set the lake on fire?
Of all the artists on this green earth, I’m currently stanning a white French woman. God, but that’s just how it’s been lately. Bonnie Banane can delve into a variety of genres (hip-hop, R&B, electronic, pop), fusing them into something all her own. I think I might like to write more about her in depth some day.
Continuing a well-established pattern of stellar features and collaborations, Bonnie Banane teamed up with pianist/composer/arranger Christophe Chassol to produce a beautiful single, “Feu au Lac.” It means “lake on fire.” It comes from an expression based on an old storm alert system on Lake Geneva, in which they would warn fisherman of impending storms by setting parts of the lake aflame. To say something like "Il n'y a pas le feu au lac" in French essentially translated to "there's no rush" or "we have time."
I was first introduced to Chassol’s artistry this summer, on a road trip through Oregon. While taking respite in the Willamette Valley, shaded by Douglas Firs and invigorated by the cool air, my friend introduced me to Big Sun, a real freaky record he released in 2015. His classical orchestral inclinations were belied by absurd samples and conceits. Shout out to DJ Izzy at KWVA 88.1 FM. Love ya.
Here, however, Bonnie Banane’s voice serves as an anchor for the accelerating yet measured harmony between the electronic keys, drums, and bass. I love how Banane’s voice follows the band’s rhythm in certain places. In those moments her voice serves as an integral component, in step with the group.
As the track progresses, it hurries and hurries, pausing occasionally to maintain poise. In the end, Bonnie asks us "mens-moi mieux."
Lie to me better.
This track is light, bright, and tight. Put it on some time.
— Aida Rogers
Yves Tumor - Safe In The Hands of Love
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee and currently based in Turin, Italy, Yves Tumor has been recording for years now as an enigmatic, confrontational artist who exists on the fringes of multiple scenes but never quite aligns himself with one in particular. He broke out on last year’s Mono No Aware compilation with the loping, melodic sound collage “Limerence,” conversely shocking fans with noise sets in which he rendered himself unable to perform unless audience members unshackled him from literal chains. He is reticent to share too much information about himself, but his early love of Slayer, hip-hop, and Throbbing Gristle hints toward his apathy for genre as a signifying label, while his tastes indicate his keen ability to gage emotional intelligence in music. His most recent release, Safe in the Hands of Love, traverses these influences with ease, but never quite allows the listener to get comfortable in one place for long.
At 10 tracks, the album’s multifaceted journey is an engrossing experience, but one that still leaves enough room for subsequent listens. The opening track, “Faith in Nothing Except in Salvation,” is a slow burning trumpet refrain that conjures up the spiritual jazz of Albert Ayler, its title setting the tone for Tumor’s dissection and ultimate rejection of the institutionalized self. Safe in the Hands of Love explores this framework across erratic, shifting terrain, each piece utilizing sound in unique and effective ways. On “Economy of Freedom,” Tumor ruminates about the barriers placed upon human intimacy by conveying the pain of detachment over a steely, crawling industrial beat. The airy vocals of “Honesty” delve into similar themes, but the instrumental plays like a muted techno head trip – Dev Hynes by way of Theo Parrish.
“Noid” and “Lifetime,” which tackle the abject horror of police brutality, and “Licking an Orchid,” an introspective torch song that deconstructs gender in an extraordinarily natural way, stand out as the most melodic tracks on the record. This suite comprises Safe in the Hands of Love’s centerpiece, and evokes the moody, sample-heavy Britpop of 13-era Blur. Unsurprisingly, “Noid” and “Lifetime” travel at a breakneck pace, while “Licking an Orchid” almost drowns in its own melancholy abandon. Returning to noisier territory, “Hope in Suffering (Escaping Oblivion & Overcoming Powerlessness)” revisits a theme that resonates throughout Tumor’s work – the confrontation of ugliness. Along with frequent collaborators Oxhy and Puce Mary, the disquieting sound of buzzing flies seamlessly transforms into helicopter propellers while Tumor and his cohort declare their manifesto of pain – knowledge through pain, beauty through pain, strength through pain.
Winding down the record is “Recognizing the Enemy,” a noisy acoustic track about unlearning internalized hatred, which weirdly enough, is the closest Yves Tumor has ever come to sounding like Phil Ochs. “All the Love We Have Now” features the most cryptic lyrics on the record, but the slow, icy beat helps to drill home Tumor’s repetitive poetry like a sonic lobotomy. Finally, the album closes with “Let the Lioness in You Flow Freely,” an unrelenting, arrhythmic breakdown that only increases in psychedelic fervor once guitars creep into the deafening mix. “I’m still finding myself,” Tumor sings, asserting his own process of growth, knowing fully well that profundity and truth are continually evolving concepts. “I can be the one to hold you tight,” he repeats, a proclamation of love despite not knowing oneself in the face of seemingly endless adversity. Tumor understands that growth and love are able to persist in spite of the noise surrounding him, and the album’s final moments feature a sample of “Angelfire” by Jan Haflin, an obscure song from the 1986 horror film, Demon Queen. Finally abating the five and a half minutes of noise, Haflin sings, “Let me be your angel fire…” – angel fire, a spiritual companion, and a radiant, chaotic energy that cannot pacify itself. A haunting final contradiction in an album full of striking moments.
In Safe in the Hands of Love, Yves Tumor expresses the pain and discomfort of living in a marginalized body by making painful, discomforting music. As black artist whose music is intrinsically queer, Tumor unflinchingly relates the harrowing agony of being subjected to hegemonic structures, internalized hatred, and state violence – the suffocation of identity both figuratively and literally. The album’s title comes from a line in “Noid” – “Safe in the hands of love, that’s where I feel the pressure from.” His writing style leaves the line somewhat open-ended, but the point is still clear. Love, or the idea that we are loved, does not provide the sanctuary it promises. In fact, it’s even scarier when we’re not sure who is loving us or why. In this age of anxiety, nobody who lives in fear can afford to leave their guard down. This heightened state of panic even in the face of joy is a feeling which does not translate to conventional songcraft, so Tumor has opted instead to abolish aesthetic formula altogether. Safe in the Hands of Love is a record that many have described as the latest milestone in experimental music, but perhaps it could be more effectively called a blues masterpiece.
Historically, the blues have been a powerful expression of the juncture between black suffering in a racist world and the celebration of blackness in all its multitudes. It is the crossroads between African musical heritage and the preservation of that heritage even after being stripped of one’s cultural identity, oral traditions, and musical history. This act of creation as necessary to the survival of one’s identity is what Amiri Baraka once described as the “blues continuum.” For Baraka, blues is more than a distinct genre, it is an entire lineage of creation that challenges racist preconceptions about what “music” is altogether. Safe in the Hands of the Love might be the most recent work to embody this defiant act of restless invention.
Baraka’s philosophy was informed the black American experience, but he also believed that this relationship between identity, art, and survival was not uniquely black (Baraka once cited Bruce Springsteenas the socialist bluesman of working-class white America). Taken in this context, I’ve always considered Yoko Ono to be a blues artist in her own right – one who refuses to be inhibited by genre, taste, or style; an artist motivated to experiment and create in the pursuit of ultimately regaining control of her own narrative. If you get a chance, listen to her 1971 masterpiece, Fly. It’s the only thing I can even remotely compare to the willful confusion of Yves Tumor’s latest record. Beyond that, you’ll need to hear it yourself. Safe in the Hands of Love resists description.
— DJ Mystery Meat