Mitski - Be the Cowboy
Mitski Miyawaki’s newest release personifies her phrase, “Be the cowboy you want to see in the world.” An investigation of questioning one’s own authority and self-assurance as both an artist and an individual, Mitski’s Be The Cowboy is under-toned conceptually with her increasing prevalence as woman of color in a primarily white, male dominated music industry disguised through themes of identity and the yearning for romantic expression. The album’s tracks, while speaking not as a narrative but each through their own articulately crafted compositions, create a disconnect between mind and body, between the artist and “the cowboy”
In “Washing Machine Heart,” defining warbling synths mimic an overt sense of unease and tumultuous emotion as Mitski tells a story of discomfort with one’s own identity and one’s perceived identity. She exclaims, “Baby, though I've closed my eyes, I know who you pretend I am.” She presents a complementary relationship through explicit wording and sonic expression that conveys a clear sense of turmoil to the listener, where you might feel as though your own heart is tossing and turning, questioning the line between expressing an authentic self and taking on forms of made-up counterparts imagined by others.
On “Nobody,” Mitski cultivates a successful single release that somehow expresses feeling direly alone in the world while taking us on an upbeat, mesmerizing trip. This track, through its repetitive vocals and elements of disco, evokes a feeling of complete loneliness, not just in a particular situation but as a general sense of hopelessness. Throughout the chorus, she repeats the word “Nobody” over and over again, mimicking a dissociative fugue state. Each time she sings the word, however, her voice experiences a tonal shift that exhibits a discomfort and disconnect with the self and outside world. Towards the song’s end, her voice trails off as the instrumentals in the background distort and the sound almost becomes robotic.
In this sense, Mitski creates a character that decides to adopt the mindset of a pervasive figure in order to give herself the authority that only an impossibly secure, powerful, emotionless person could have. It is these same themes that seem to generate a certain audience that level up Mitski’s music, generating more and more of a positive popular and critical response with each of her releases. When Mitski sings of all these heartbreaks and identity crises, proudly, we feel empowered in our sadness and in our desire to have the same confidence as our counterparts. We all want to “be the cowboy,” but that’s a pipe dream. Mitski, though, encourages us to thrive in this dream, to be pseudo-cowboys, and directly face and confront our realities and identities. She doesn't necessarily present a solution to the issue of damaged identities, but rather, produces unashamed expressions and reactions to the issue itself, in the form of music.
- Marii Krueger
RIYL: Courtney Barnett, PJ Harvey, Snail Mail
Recommended Tracks: #2, #5, #9, #12
FCC: Mitski says f*ck
Ariana Grande - Sweetener
Ariana Grande’s fourth studio album Sweetener is nothing if not aptly named -- the 47-minute album, rife with expert lyrics and the songstress’ signature vocal runs, sounds just like buttercream frosting tastes. Gently filling, made with love and devastatingly sweet -- Sweetener delivers what feels like Grande’s first real album, a heartfelt love ballad to her boo and her audience at large that throws convention out the window and allows Grande a clean palette on which to demonstrate her vocal chops and sensitive Cancerian energies.
The title track “sweetener,” although as beautiful and saccharine as its name would suggest, felt somewhat lacking in background instrumentals -- the hook and the beat both were fairly simplistic and distracted from the effervescently lovestruck lyrics. A song that deserved better mixing, it still pulls through as a standout track through its honestly and compelling storytelling that mimics the desires of the character in “R.E.M.,” another track that inspired me to tap the repeat button.
Perhaps the most talked-about track, “pete davidson,” was a -- dare I say it -- sweet spot of the album. Not even clocking in at a minute and a half, the track feels like an opportunity for Grande to excitedly gush over her boo (it’s essentially just her repeating “Happy” over and over again on top of a bubblegum-y slow jam), and I’m not mad about it. If anything, it makes me wish nothing more than to be the recipient of her affections, BDE aside.
Honest, emotional and gently soul-bearing, “sweetener” could only possibly have been performed by a Cancer -- and how lucky we are that that Cancer was Ariana Grande. Her angel voice takes you on a sweet and indulgent journey through new love and butterflies-in-your-stomach romance and, in the end, leaves you with nary a cavity to be found. This is an album that takes care of you, lets you cry on its shoulder and be a little too in your feelings and tells you, in the final track, that you’re valid because of it. And because of that, if nothing else, it’s worth your listen.
- Jane Keranen
Editor's note: this review was edited for brevity. Check out the full review at http://kxsc.org/blog/
RIYL: Carly Rae Jepsen, The Neptunes, Pharrell, poptimism
Recommended Tracks: #3, #6, #7, #10, #14
88rising - Head in the Clouds
It’s rare for a compilation album to have something for everyone. Versatility of label signees is often the strongest theoretical point for many musical enterprises, but rarely if ever do they both encapsulate the breadth of modern pop music and express each artist as separate and distinct from one another. 88rising’s Head in the Clouds is a notable exception in this field: based in New York, they have a creative staple of artists from all over Asia and around the world.
These are people who I’m sure you know well (Rich Brian, Joji, Keith Ape amongst others), combined with relatively new faces from the label (NIKI, August 08) to create a cohesive collective tape we haven’t really seen since early Metro Zu & and A$AP. Playboi Carti, Yung Bans, 03 Greedo also make distinct features on this project, in their element and to great effect. “Japan 88” and “Midsummer Madness” are the standouts on this record: the first a remix of Famous Dex’s Japan and the I’m really enjoying “Nothing Wrong” at the moment — producer Harakiri has done a great job evoking a Todd Edwards-style vocal garage track with the Higher Brothers and Goldlink MCing the track almost effortlessly. We might be a bit late with this one, but I retroactively crown it the tape of the summer. LA’s still warm though, so keep it on rotation.
- Sean Morgenthaler
RIYL: Migos, Frank Ocean, Ariana Grande, 03 Greedo, 24HRS
Recommended Tracks: #1, #10, #16
FCC: 2-7, 10-16
Tomu DJ - NO IDEA
My car shakes and rattles and time bends when I pop the CD in. My head spins as if in a nicotine headrush. Memories of love's past flood the mind. NO IDEA is electric. I’ve been listening to the 4-track EP by Oakland-based Tomu DJ for nearly four months now, and it’s STILL fire. It is a concise, exhilarating experience of uptempo pop bops.
Admittedly, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about footwork before this EP. I still remain unversed in its intricacies. Of course I had been introduced to DJ Rashad (L’s up). But the way Tomu DJ transforms these certified pop/r&B hits is remarkable, and affected me personally. She describes this EP as being “four love songs,” but it’s clear that in her definition, love sometimes really hurts. She makes these tracks her own. Let’s break ‘em down. TWISTED - A slow-burner that really heats up, featuring Keith Sweat’s “Twisted” ALL U DO IS TEAR IT UP - Ashanti’s “Rock Wit U” raises the stakes as we enter my favorite part of the album (awww baby ooo baby) and almost seamlessly transition intoCANT BELIEVE - a remix of Justin Timberlake’s "What Goes Around" that truly SERVES. Love the looping of his vocals: DON WANNA TALK ABOUT IT, DON WANNA TALK ABOUT IT, FEELIN THA BLUES ABOUT IT, FEELIN IN THE BLUES ABOUT IT HIGHER - “Higher” from Rihanna’s ANTI is taken to its zenith - if the original made you wanna think about your ex and curl into a ball, this will make you wanna think about your ex and smash shit If her debut can be any measure of her influences, Tomu DJ’s are quite apparent. The EP proceeds chronologically by the samples it uses. “Twisted” (1996), “Rock Wit U” (2003), “What Goes Around…Comes Around” (2006), and finally “Higher” (2016). In just four tracks, two decades of RnB and pop excellence (depending on how you feel about JT) become new. Buckle up.
- Aida Rogers
RIYL: DJ Rashad, Teklife, Justin Timberlake, Ashanti, Rihanna, Keith Sweat
Recommended Tracks: #1-4
serpentwithfeet - soil
serpentwithfeet’s full-length debut soil is a challenging listen. It’s not due to excessive verbosity or elevated diction, but rather the vulnerability in his (real name Josiah Wise) lyrics and his angelic voice. I feel physically and emotionally unsettled listening to soil. That’s a good thing, I think.
On “mourning song” Wise proclaims:
I’m so embarrassed // my voice is far too deep // it’s buried in the ground"
And I become embarrassed for him, on some level. For personal reasons, I know what it is to be hyper conscious of your voice. To fear its depth.
Maybe it is the production and instrumentation that is so unnerving. In comparison with the 2016 EP blisters, soil has more layers of sound, creating chaotic tracks, like the deliriously triumphant “cherubim” (I’ve had friends skip this track out of sheer discomfort). No doubt, sonic elements remain: handclaps, stomps, and piercing percussion echo and ground Wise’s prodigious vocals.
I can’t say I necessarily welcome the more ornate compositions. blisters had a really pared down approach that highlighted Wise’s vocal range and affect. There is no track on soil as bone-chilling as “four ethers”.
Still, we can’t live in the past. 2016 was a different time. Maybe more is more. The backing organ on “wrong tree” establishes a very campy feeling, like you’re in an episode of your favorite soap opera, or at a baseball game. “fragrant” has some amazing imagery: “I called all your ex boyfriends // and asked them for a kiss // I need to know if they still carried your fragrance // baby boy as their mouths consumed mine, their lips were sweet as yours// I hope your flavor stays in mine”.
It’s not clear who is being addressed on “fragrant”: an ex-lover? a dead lover? But the solution to this MIA lover is simple: smooch his old boyfriends. And that’s exactly the type of energy you should bring into listening to soil.
- Aida Rogers
RIYL: FAKA, Yves Tumor, Raphael Saadiq, Vicktor Taiwò
Recommended Tracks: #2, #5, #6
FCC: serpentwithfeet says f*ck