Yes, it's that time once again. We give you reviews of fresh, hot music that our DJs are vibing with. Won't keep you long here. You know the drill. But make sure to check out Xanthe Pajarillo's interview with Lady Lamb and Stina Chang's Kpop playlist, and Aida Rogers' conversation with The Koreatown Oddity, a fiery mix from DJ Gami, and more!! Enjoy the new tunes, stay safe. - Music Writing Director, Aida Rogers
Solange - When I Get Home
“No one womb should have all that power,” exclaimed an emphatic tweeter in reference to none other than Ms. Tina Knowles, mother of Beyoncé and Solange. And it’s true… her babies are insurmountably powerful. While the former is regarded as today’s biggest pop star, the latter recently released what I believe to be the best album of the year thus far. When I Get Home, Solange Knowles’ fourth studio album, seamlessly weaves the artist’s neo-soul sensibilities with bass-knocking sounds of the dirty south. This project arrives two and a half years after her critically-acclaimed breakthrough album A Seat At The Table. Despite having big shoes to fill, Solange is able to deliver a fresh, new spin on her sound rather than riding on the coattails of the tried and true success she achieved with her 2016 project.
If you look up When I Get Home on the internet, the genre listing clarifies it as “new-age music,” and I personally can’t think of a better way to describe it. Ranging from brooding, ominous tracks like the album’s opener “Things I Imagined” and “Time (is)” to melodic bangers such as “Binz” (my personal favorite) and “My Skin My Logo,” Solange’s album covers all bases in terms of musical experimentation. Jazz, hip-hop, R&B, funk, soul, electronic: the singer/songwriter is able to tie these estranged atmospheres together under a unifying theme of paying homage to her hometown Houston. In fact, many of the track names are inspired by landmarks and muses specific to the city.
The album is also replete with star-studded features and production/writing credits from the likes of Gucci Mane, Playboi Carti, The-Dream, Pharrell, Tyler the Creator, Blood Orange, Steve Lacy, Sampha, and more. But alas, it is not her collaborators that take the cake. The film. The film. THE FILM. If you have yet to watch the visual accompaniment to When I Get Home, then you should stop reading this, sign up for a free 1-month Apple Music trial (#teamSpotify over here duh), and go do that. The 33-minute short film, partially inspired by Houston post-Hurricane Harvey, includes every song on the album and it is fire. Period.
Solange stated that with A Seat At the Table she focused on what she had to say, while with When I Get Home she was concerned with what she had to feel. As someone who listened to both albums repeatedly, I agree. When listening to and viewing this project, there will be aspects that don’t immediately make sense, but they will make you feel. Solange’s ability to create art that evokes genuine reaction and emotion is no small feat in today’s oversaturated industry, and I think we should all be applauding her for it.
- Ugonnaya Chilaka
RIYL: black people, Houston, experimentation!
Recommended Tracks: 4, 7, 9, 14, 17
FCC: 6, 8, 9, 14
Hozier - Wasteland, Baby!
During a recent Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ session, one fan asked singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne about the best place to listen to his upcoming album. Hozier’s response? “Wherever dread creeps in, baby!”
Wasteland, Baby! is an album born of permeating dread. It is Hozier’s long-awaited sophomore release, delivered five years after the soulful self-titled LP that accompanied his meteoric rise. Lead single Take Me To Church turned a scathing criticism of the Catholic Church into an evocative, danceable hit. This second album deals with equally hefty subject matter; Hozier says it was written in response to our fraught political atmosphere and the Doomsday Clock’s move to two minutes to midnight. Despite its grim inspiration, Wasteland, Baby! draws upon the full spectrum of human emotion, sometimes victorious and sometimes despondent. Below, I break it down, track by track.
Nina Cried Power: Driven by a strong drum beat and a rafter-shaking choir, the album begins with a call to action and a celebration of music’s role in activism. Gospel legend Mavis Staples is featured in the anthem’s rousing call-and-response chorus, and the combined force of her voice and Hozier’s is delightfully potent. Nina Cried Power is a truly impressive opening track sure to stir the hearts of the masses.
Almost (Sweet Music): Almost is a nostalgic meditation on music and memory built on references to jazz standards. It’s a buoyant tune with a refrain you’ll find yourself singing absentmindedly days after listening. Though it shows a bit more pop influence than the rest of the album, it doesn’t sound formulaic in the least, and will surely be a smash when performed live.
Movement: Hozier leans into gospel influences on Movement, breezily showcasing his extensive vocal range. This ode to dance starts out mellow and sensual, and gracefully builds to an anthemic climax. Between the rich choral vocals and subtle instrumentation, the track is an effortless masterpiece.
No Plan: No Plan is the first track to explore the album’s thesis of optimism in the face of the world’s disintegration. However, it’s not as lyrically clever as other songs dealing with the same theme, nor is it the most musically adventurous. It isn’t a bad song by any means, just unremarkable, but in a collection full of songs that totally hit the mark, unremarkable can feel disappointing.
Nobody: Nobody feels like a stylistic continuation of exuberant blues rock tracks like Jackie and Wilson, and with great success. It’s a boisterous and youthful tune where the devil is in the details. An effortless falsetto vocal run here, a particularly tight drum fill there, and whimsical lyricism throughout all weave Nobody into a masterful, high-spirited love song.
To Noise Making (Sing): On an album that continually confronts despair head-on, To Noise Making provides a respite. It’s a moment of pure, unadulterated fun that even the hardest of hearts will be compelled to dance to. The bouncing piano line and a lilting, catchy hook make it difficult to resist Hozier’s suggestion to sing along.
As It Was: A marked transition from the previous track’s ebullience,As It Was is a melancholy folk number. The fuzzy acoustic guitar and low, humming vocals create a meditative mood, bringing to mind previous hits like Work Song. Where the verses stay low, the chorus is exultant. This rise-and-fall structure makes it seem as though the song is breathing, shaping a humble but stirring ballad.
Shrike: I was completely floored the first time I listened to Shrike, and the thrill has not worn off. Borrowing heavily from Irish folk music, the guitar line is delicate and exhilarating, driving the song with understated support by piano and strings. Hozier sings beautifully. He luxuriates in the warmth of his lower range, belts in an electrifying chest voice, and touches on airy high notes with equal dexterity. Even the image of lovers as a predatory bird and the thorn it uses to kill prey seems natural and romantic as anything. Shrike is truly Hozier at his best.
Talk: Talk is sexy, plain and simple, a provocative ode to seduction framed around the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s a shining example of Hozier’s ability to write songs that masterfully draw from myth and legend without becoming unoriginal. Booker T. Jones’ organ work lays elegantly on top of keening background vocals and provides the glue for this laid-back yet lusty foot-tapper.
Be: The next song that fell short of my hopes, Be contains lots of promising elements that don’t quite add up to a hit. Some lyrics are very poignant (I’m especially a fan of “Be love in its disrepute / Scorches the hillside and salts every root / And watches the slowin’ and starvin' of troops”). The song’s message to continue loving wholeheartedly while disaster rages on is a solid sentiment. However, it almost feels like an afterthought, conveyed half-heartedly among more fully realized meditations on destruction.
Dinner & Diatribes: It’s not hard to see why this song was an immediate fan favorite. The urgent, bluesy guitar riff invites foot-stomping and hand-clapping, and Hozier’s suggestive, straightforward lyricism is well-loved by listeners. However, I find it more hollow than the other heavy-hitting tracks, and would probably consider it to be the album’s weakest song.
Would That I: Would That I is a vivacious track, with eloquent lyrics rooted in naturalistic metaphor and nimble acoustic guitar in spades. What really sets the song apart from Hozier’s other folk songs is the spacious production and his sublime vocal performance. Just as inShrike, Hozier uses his voice as a versatile tool. The back-and-forth between airy verses and unwavering choruses makes Would That I a radiant victory.
Sunlight: Another passionate, rollicking ballad, Sunlight compares the narrator to Icarus, driven by disastrous, all-consuming ardor. I think this track is one of Hozier’s greatest lyrical successes; it’s clever, poignant, and evokes vivid images without relying on overly flowery language. The lush orchestration is enriched by the gospel choir, which is back in full force and sounds especially divine combined with yet another fantastic organ line by Booker T.
Wasteland, Baby!: The album closes with one of Hozier’s best. The gentle, fluid guitar part is reminiscent of masterpieces like Cherry Wine and Like Real People Do, and the vocal effects add a uniquely dreamlike element. Telling a story of true love in the face of seemingly hopeless times, the song comes across as wholesome, sincere, and heart-wrenchingly tender. It’s the touching sound of someone making peace with a terrifying world.
As a whole, the album presents a cohesive and mature sound that builds on previous successes without turning into a do-over, an unfortunately common trap into which many sophomore releases fall. The few hiccups are still quite enjoyable and don’t detract from the overall power of the album. In all, Wasteland, Baby! is a marvelous herald of Hozier’s triumphant return.
- Anna Podkowski
RIYL: James Bay, The Head and the Heart, Bahamas, Ray LaMontagne
Recommended Tracks: Nobody, Would That I, Wasteland, Baby!
FCC: Explicit (Track 4 and 6)
Kehlani - While We Wait
Kehlani’s second studio album brings her listeners a whole new Kehlani as she is now a new-found mother hence the title While We Wait. She sings about jealousy and dishonest relationships -- staying true to similar themes she’s carried throughout her first albumSweetSexySavage and her first mixtape, You Should Be Here.
As a long time fan of Kehlani, I was slightly disappointed. There wasn’t a song that got me quite as excited as songs such as "CRZY" or "The Way" from her previous discography, as she seems to take less risks here, but regardless, Kehlani can do no wrong.
While We Wait is a perfect album to play during night drives, or just chilling in the car, cruising through LA with the homies. The album’s 9-tracks, significantly shorter than her previous albums, are lowkey and less upbeat. Not necessarily a bad thing, but While We Wait is a different vibe suited for chill hangouts while SweetSexySavage is more fast-paced, move-your-body music. Perhaps this change is representative of Kehlani’s growth after becoming a mother and settling down in life more. There’s a Kehlani for every situation as we follow her on journey of discovery.
Kehlani’s rough childhood and low points continue to be transparent to her listeners. She sings from the heart and doesn’t try to put up a front. If you’re going through something, Kehlani can get you through it. Even if you’re not going through something, Kehlani will get you through it. If you haven’t listened to this impassioned Oakland native’s heartfelt music yet -- stop reading and go listen now.
- Stella Yeung
RIYL: H.E.R., Ella Mai, Jorja Smith
Recommended Tracks: 2, 4,5
Guspy - River Styx
Los Angeles based psychedelic pop artist Guspy released his debut album River Styx in January of 2018. The record incorporates blues, surf rock, and indie influences, creating chill and mellow vibes throughout the album. The record is both energetic and draggy at the same time, utilizing the two elements and combining them into a very interesting listen. It’s the type of music one may listen to on a long night drive after a party or concert, on the way to the beach, or, my favorite, at the beach. It’s upbeat, yet mellow at the same time--catchy, and easy to sing along to, making it perfect beach weather music.
Track one, “River Styx,” one of the record’s highlights, employs an interesting instrumental introduction with a cool guitar solo, and then transitions into a catchy melody, the vocals playing off the surf rock influence. Speeding up towards at the end, the song’s upbeat manner listens like you’re on your way to the beach or are parading along the coast in your convertible with the wind blowing through your hair. Track two, “Toolbox,” another highlight off the album, uses interesting guitar work and cool vocal effects in a way that would translate very well live given its upbeat and catchy manor. The crowd would be stupid if they weren’t moving, jumping, dancing, or even moshing, especially towards the track’s closure. Picking up at the end, the song sounds similar to that of older FIDLAR music, utilizing the fast tempo and guitar distortion. The last highlight, track four, “Grave Slave,” begins slow, mellow, and chill, and then transitions into a faster tempo, and goes back down again and ends with more mellow vibes. It emphasizes the psychedelic distortion effects in both the vocals and the guitar with the song’s catchy power chords. The way the track moves from chill to upbeat so effortlessly makes it one of the records highlights.
Through a heavy use of distortion and reverb in both the guitar and vocals, Guspy conveys a sound similar to that of the Gorillaz if they went in the surfer rock direction. Guspy’s music relies heavily on distortion and the vocal effects he uses throughout the album sound melancholy and distant, using the “megaphone” effect, which the Gorillaz rely heavily on too for their vocals. Guspy is strong in the way he makes his songs build, and his transitions of distortion listens in an interesting and different manner. His songs sound like rollercoasters, moving up and down and changing the flow by altering the distortion. River Styx is an interesting album from an interesting upcoming artist, and I’d say the young musician has a bright future ahead of him.
- Amber Kroner
Jenny Lewis - On the Line
The phenomenon of child stardom is a fraught one, generally regarded as a precarious process that sends its subjects into the world with equal fervor as respectable grown celebrities and tragic laughingstocks. Perhaps the best course of action for kid stars, though, is to aim their artistic paths in a direction distinct from their youthful livelihood, and incorporate the actor’s sensibility into something better than their early career ever yielded. Such a path is exemplified by no one better than Jenny Lewis, former frontwoman of the seminal 2000s indie outfit Rilo Kiley, whose latest solo album, On the Line, was released this March.
Lewis, whose childhood acting credits include dozens of commercials, TV shows, and teen movies, has always demonstrated a sagacity and world weariness in her music. Her sweet, clear voice and catchy melodies often carry lyrics about being chewed up and spit out by love. On the Line isn’t a surprising album, or one that sees Lewis going in a new musical direction, but it’s exactly what Lewis fans could have hoped for--an elegant, expertly written indie pop album that runs the gamut of emotion, but feels as mature and wise as Lewis has ever been.
On the Line’s first track, the slow ballad “Heads Gonna Roll,” is an unusual choice for an opener, a tracklist position traditionally filled by an album’s biggest hit or most energizing tune. Its Elton John-esque piano backing, along with the grim chorus “Heads gonna roll, baby / Everybody's gotta pay that toll and maybe / After all is said and done, we'll all be skulls” makes it the kind of song one expects to hear at the end of the night. There’s a kind of playful ambivalence in Lewis’s treatment of the somber and tragic on On the Line; “I wasted my youth...just for fun,” she sings on the musically cheerful addiction-lamenting “Wasted Youth.” The jaunty, church-bell laden “Party Clown” portrays the fabulous life of the entertainer with as much abjection as sunny reminiscence.
Among the cynical recollections on On the Line are plenty of songs that ooze with palpable strains of passion, love, and loneliness. “Red Bull & Hennessy,” the leading single from the album, is a hard-rocking and sensual paeon evoking a desire as powerful and potentially dangerous as the combination of substances named in its title. Meanwhile, the album’s penultimate and titular song, “On the Line,” falls into Lewis’s canon of flawless breakup anthems, and stands out even among this stellar array. Its lyrics are simple, with three repeated stanzas, and the chorus (“Listen to my heart beating / On the line”) evokes both a relationship hanging by a thread and the telephone landline over which its arguments take place--the dial tone of which closes the song.
On the Line may be replete with sentiments of despair, but there is hope in observing the consistency with which Lewis has written--and will in all likelihood continue to write--killer albums throughout her decades-long career.
- Lucy Allen
RIYL: Neko Case, Fleetwood Mac, Aimee Mann
Recommended Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 10