Jeremih – Late Nights: Europe

Chicago R&B singer-rapper Jeremih’s surprise mixtape and follow-up to critically acclaimed album Late Nights, Late Nights: Europe has arrived after reportedly having been conceived and recorded in the space of two weeks due to inspiration from Jeremih’s endeavours in Europe on tour. Unfortunately, while this material may have just been recorded recently, it definitely sounds like the left over ideas from his last project were somewhat recycled into Europe, because this does not measure up to his previous work in any shape or form.

Beginning with one of the project’s only strengths, the instrumentals and production are actually quite impressive on some of the album’s better tracks, which usually involve Jeremih trying his hand at rapping for a change instead of his usual sensual R&B crooning. The album was produced solely by extremely frequent collaborator Soundz, who adapts his style to the type of track with ease. The album’s best track, “Belgium (Get Down)”, really would not be anything special were it not for that bouncy piano-influenced trap beat – the vocal delivery and lyricism are honestly both extremely lazy. The lyrics in general on this project can tend to get a bit cringe-worthy, whether Jeremih is going much too far on a sexual allusion, or simply overloading songs with lazy punchlines.

Most of this album, especially as it draws longer into its middle and latter half, sounds so similar that it all blends together and I found myself just waiting for the end instead of attempting to analyze and listen to the work closely. It just all gets to be too much, as song after song of woozy and overly sexual R&B ballads drone on and on. This was one of the most boring listening experiences I’ve had this year, hands down. What makes it worse is that we as an audience know that Jeremih can do this effectively, even as far as the sexual talk is concerned, as he makes it all work on the songs which become his biggest hits. This is just a case of lack of effort.

Of these slower tracks, “Czech Republic” is the most interesting, because it is the only one that comes with a degree of charisma and fun in Jeremih’s vocal performance, instead of mumbling carelessly about subject matter which goes further into descriptive detail than any human being should ever want to hear about, much less listen to repeatedly like one might with a “Don’t Tell Em”.

During interviews where the process of creating this work is discussed, it sounds almost like Jeremih and his collaborators are boasting about their ability to create a work and put it out into the world so quickly. The final product, however, is not something to be proud of, and perhaps if they had spent more time it would measure up to his other releases in terms of both critical and public response. I have not seen an overwhelming degree of excitement or buzz behind this album as I have in the past.

An alternate album cover showing the many location-inspired tracks

“The Crib” might be the worst song I’ve heard all year. The entire song is written in two-line couplets, all of which begin “Met a lil’ b****” in various places around Chicago, which one might expect to end in a clever fashion at least once over the song’s four-and-a-half-minute runtime, but none do. And to repeat vocal line so much, one might expect it to be catchy enough that doing so still works effectively, like Fetty Wap’s greatest work, but Jeremih’s disinterested drone, inexplicable use of autotune and lack of melody here makes this the most mind-blowingly terrible song in recent memory.

I recognize that sitting down with headphones in order to listen to a mixtape of this calibre is perhaps not the atmosphere to fully grasp the appeal of these songs, but Jeremih and his team could at the very least make these songs more interesting and enjoyable to the everyday listener by adding some diversity in the project’s middle and end to break up the monotony. Being bludgeoned over the head with lazily penned R&B tracks devoted to one subject and one subject only, gets extremely tiring after a while.

Favourite Tracks: Belgium (Get Down), Czech Republic, Berlin (She Wit It)

Least Favourite Track: The Crib

Score: 3/10

BensBeat Scheduling Update

From now on, I will be posting one review on Mondays and one on Wednesdays, instead of the usual 2 reviews every Monday, in order to space things out over the week. This week’s review of Jamila Woods’ debut album HEAVN is below, and another will be coming this Wednesday.

Thanks for reading!

Jamila Woods – HEAVN

Chance the Rapper associate and Social Experiment member Jamila Woods’ first album as a solo artist is a statement, and not necessarily a bold one – which may be its underlying strength. HEAVN serves as yet another in a recent string of albums offering their take on the current issues of today, most primarily relating to the recent adversity faced by the black community. While most artists, primarily residing in the hip-hop genre, have adopted a stance of anger – which is very powerful in and of itself – Jamila Woods presents another side. These songs are breezy and fun, very catchy, and accompanied by a message of hope for the future, and embracing and loving all aspects of her identity: her skin, her name, her hometown, all of these elements are addressed on HEAVN.

“LSD” is a celebration of home, stating that any potential suitors will need to love her as much as she loves Lake Michigan, and in the most beautiful and instantly catchy vocal line on the album Woods states “Woke up this morning with a mind set on loving me” (“Holy”). And really, what other protest album interpolates the theme song of Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood (“Emerald St.”)? Stocking the project with subject material like serves as a contrast to the moment when Woods finally gets extremely explicit about the centuries of injustice her people have faced on “BLK Girl Soldier”. As her voice still floats effortlessly over the track as if she were at a camp singalong with her closest friends, the dark world she paints of death and lynching is much more vivid and attention grabbing.

This voice, breathy and yet extremely powerful, is another of the appeals of the project, presenting its silky smooth qualities overtop of Chicago-style hip-hop and R&B dance beats. Many of Chance the Rapper’s frequent collaborators and associates, including Chance himself, show up over the course of the album and all do an amazing job, whether on featured vocals or production. This has become such a tight-knit group that is capable of creating quality music together extremely consistently. And while Donnie Trumpet, leader of the Social Experiment band, does show up on “Breadcrumbs” to showcase Woods’ voice over typical SoX production (which still works very well for me anyway), the rest of the album’s sound is not derivative at all despite working with these frequent collaborators.

Production is handled mainly by Peter Cottontale, oddCOUPLE, and Saba, who turns in a great verse himself. Lush and bouncy R&B instrumentals are abundant, but most interesting to me were the elements of acoustic guitars to accompany the jazzy Chicago sound. With Woods’ background as a poet reflecting in her lyrics over minimal production, it can come across like updated and modern folk music. Woods’ vocal performance showcases what are almost elements of classical and traditional R&B sounds: simple but effective melodies, beautiful harmonies, choruses and major melody lines that aren’t much more than improvised scat solos, and songs which skew to the shorter side in length. Everything coming from Chance’s camp right now just sounds incredibly joyful, celebrating the power of music.

Woods, Chance and the rest of the Social Experiment in the “Sunday Candy” Video

Not only is the music exceptional, this is a quite conceptual album as well, tied together by what sounds like phone conversations where Woods speaks on a variety of topics, mainly regarding pride in her identity. HEAVN opens with vocals clearly meant to sound angelic on intro “Bubbles”, and the theme of heaven does continue to resurface, but the main concept is what she speaks of in these interludes. As one of her song titles states, she is “VERY BLK”. A favourite of these is how she tells a story of how she connected with other black women she did not know while at work because they all knew the same childhood game and playground rhyme, which they then recited together and confused onlookers, calling it her “secret”. Another interesting anecdote depicts her mother’s story of how Woods, then unborn, came to her in a dream and told her what her name was, giving Woods the impression that she named herself, and giving her a personal affinity for her own name. This interlude introduces the song “In My Name”, showing that the interludes do string the songs together to tell somewhat of a story.

Despite all the injustice in the world, Woods states “What else can we do but move forward?” on the interlude which brings “LSD” to a close. Even for someone like me who admittedly could not be further removed from the situation, this is very affirming and uplifting material. It is fantastic to hear such positivity while delivering the same essential message in the wake of so many songs filled with anger. This may be the album that 2016 really needs.

Favourite Tracks: Holy, LSD, VERY BLK, Way Up, BLK Girl Soldier

Least Favourite Track: Lately

Score: 9/10

Dreezy – No Hard Feelings

Up-and-coming Chicago-area female singer and rapper Dreezy’s debut album is a showcase of potential that hasn’t yet been realized. Coming off moderate hit “Body”, inching ever so closely to the Billboard Top 50, No Hard Feelings is full of laid-back R&B numbers of the same, average calibre, as well as the majority of the tracks consisting of Dreezy’s raps in some capacity, either taking up the whole song or being relegated to serve the purpose of a featured rap verse on a more vocal-based song, though she takes charge of both. The album is tied together by numerous skits which tell a continuous story and introduce the themes of the forthcoming songs, which is always a pleasure to see even if this particular story of a love triangle which ends violently is quite basic and was probably added after the fact rather than built around, like the best concept albums are.

The main problem with this project is what feels like an apparent lack of passion, which in turn extends to a larger problem of a dearth of creativity. It feels like we have heard all this before. While Dreezy does at time exhibit bursts of energy, usually to match a particularly interesting beat like on the opening 2 tracks “We Gon Ride” and “Spazz”, but a lot of the time it is simply too boring – mostly due to the fact that Dreezy herself sounds unconvinced of her words and not caring enough to deliver a stellar performance. It sounds almost like Drake’s lazy approach to “Started from the Bottom”, but stretched out across an entire album. “Bad B*tch” in particular sounds incredibly phoned in. One cannot get by on clever punchlines (which she has in spades) alone.

Dreezy’s singing is a slight improvement over her lacklustre bars; she genuinely does have quite a pleasing voice when we get to hear it at its full potential – “Close To You” is its best showcase, she doesn’t really sing at full voice on the remainder of the tracks, letting some of the rasp which infiltrates her raps to creep in to this area as well. But in a world where similar R&B acts like FKA Twigs and Banks are truly pushing music forward in a positive direction, this feels pedestrian. Tracks like “Wasted” would be much better if they were not so repetitive. A more varied melody and lyrical content would elevate this song among the album’s best. Fortunately, it is saved by possibly the best rap verse on the album.

Dreezy and Jeremih in the “Body” video

The beats are definitely the project’s strength, fantastic for the most part while taking a slight step up from typical rap instrumentals by adding interesting elements here and there, although with the occasional misfire – “Worth It” in particular is an off-kilter mess which can’t even accommodate Dreezy’s most basic flows. “Afford My Love”, on the other hand, is easily the album’s best song. Dreezy’s silky vocals flow perfectly over the relaxed, Los Angeles/West Coast-style funk influenced beat. Why don’t the rest of her songs sound like this? Her true potential is here. The song consists of dexterous rapped verses and a sung chorus, a structure which would likely be beneficial to gravitate too. Wale adds to the track as well, on an album where most of the featured artists fall a bit flat.

There are moments, however, when the trade-offs between Dreezy’s singing and rapping kill the momentum of the song because she is not consistent with her energy, bringing back the previous point of her lazy approach to vocals. Closing track “Invincible” has perhaps her most passionate rapping and the slowest and most boring chorus on the album. It is an extremely jarring transition which takes the listener out of the immersion of the music. This is perfectly average, passable music. Nothing is excessively bad, but there’s nothing new or interesting here.

Favourite Tracks: Afford My Love, See What You On, Close To You

Least Favourite Track: Worth It

Score: 4/10

Savant – Vybz

Prolific electronic musician Savant returns with his first project since last year’s Invasion, continuing his long line of solid releases as he continues to infiltrate every facet of EDM’s wide array of genres. One of the most creative electronic producers in the business right now due to his extensive musical background as a multi-instrumentalist, Savant veers off in yet another direction on Vybz. There still remain some classic Savant tropes and personal stylistic elements, although with a completely different style. This is a bit slower and more laid back that we’re used to, though still very fun for the most part. I often find that Savant’s music, more than any other artist, just sounds like the embodiment of unbridled joy, and this is still here albeit toned down slightly. No longer is his music an all-out attack (in a positive sense!) on your senses.

The aforementioned tropes run amok on these tracks, however, signifying to the listeners that this is still Savant, and could not possibly be anyone else. The style of synth he often uses for his main melodies, the ever-present funk bassline, cascading trills running up and down the track, the imbuement of interesting sharps and flats to create unique melodies you don’t hear in most EDM music. It’s all here. He has mastered the creation of a signature sound, spread across a career known for the creation of vastly different sounds. “Judas” is perhaps the song most comparable to familiar Savant sounds from his previous works. It happily bounces along, driven by a melodic bassline and evoking a particularly intense video game boss fight.

Savant’s music is and always has been ridiculously complex. It certainly goes to show how difficult it can be to make EDM music at this level of creativity. I cannot begin to imagine how many different tracks Savant had to lay down and fit together to create these perfectly interlocking masterpieces. Compared to the world of mainstream EDM, this is on another planet. Dynamic standout “Zombie Cats” comes to mind. Another standout track, “In Your Name”, is the only instance of vocals on the album – some of my favourite tracks of his over the years have had vocals and I would love if he implemented them more, but for now this song keeps that trend up. A breezy danceable hook backed up by pounding bass keeps it afloat. Another positive is the seamless transitions. Savant has always been known to craft a body of work which more resembles a 50 minute song than a collection of separate entities.

At times the music can get a little bit disjointed; I think this may come as a result of slowing down the tempo and not filling up some of the empty space with frenetic noise and energy as he has done in the past. “Carnival” is a bit weak in this sense. I hate to criticize Savant because he has provided such a diverse variety of creative sounds over the years, but if not disjointed, the slower tempos can tend to make things a tad boring, especially with a song like “Aneurism”.

I certainly commend his attempt to do something else completely different after basically going everywhere one could possibly go in the EDM world, but some of these songs work better as atmospheric background music rather than songs I would desire to listen to on repeat occasions to give that boost of energy to get me through the day, which is what I’ve come to know Savant for (past tracks like “Starfish”, “Black Magic”, “Face Off”). Even a song like “Omen”, while hard-hitting in sound, chugs along offering little in head-nodding excitement.

Although the project is still mostly synth driven sonically, Vybz does employ a wide variety of instruments across its span, an aspect not typically found in the EDM genre. What sounds to be mostly live drums are used, piano melodies dance across “Beaches” and a song like “Enemy Paint” which is very guitar-driven is a welcome addition to the EDM canon. Savant is a multi-instrumentalist genius and he continues to show it here. It is very interesting to hear what results from someone who is so well-versed musically pouring his talents into the creation of electronic music. He knows how every possible sound works together and he milks these relationships for all they’re worth.

Favourite Tracks: Zombie Cats, Judas, Troll, Alive, In Your Name

Least Favourite Track: Aneurism

Score: 8/10

Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP

Mysterious electronic music producer Aphex Twin, now on his third release since returning after an extended hiatus with Grammy Award-winning album Syro, changes up his style, and possibly for the better. At this point he has a quite a reputation attached to him which honestly caused me to be slightly apprehensive approaching this project: a reputation of being one of the most creative EDM producers and all around musical artists of all time and thus creating excessively strange and inaccessible, and yet genius music. He definitely maintains this air of creativity which shows no bounds on this short project – you certainly don’t hear anything like this anywhere else – but drops the inaccessibility, opting instead for an approach which falls more in line with modern techno rather than his previous works of rhythmically diverse experimental ambience.

A heavier focus is placed on recognizable melodies running throughout the tracks now, causing them to be much more listenable. As always, Aphex Twin’s primary instrument is the synthesizer and continues to name his tracks after the machine he is using to create them, and with the added dimension of these melodies, the tracks give off an almost chiptune-like feel. These are lengthy songs that one can easily get lost in, and not mind their length at all because they are that good. One of the greatest aspects of the project is the drums, Aphex Twin utilizes a variety of interesting sounds and it all comes across very clean and precise.

It is interesting that an artist with such an air of mystery and penchant for complexity in his music would go down such a route – it acts as somewhat of a trap for the listener, attempting to initially fool them in to thinking we are being provided with basic electronic dance material which could be heard in a similar fashion if the radio was turned on, but as they keep listening it evolves into something much more. The many layers begin to reveal themselves and bounce off of each other, building up to the level of frenetic rhythms and experimental sounds we have come to know – although most of the project is indeed still in basic 4/4 time!

With the exception of the first track “CHEETAHT2 [Ld spectrum]”, these songs are very high energy. Each track is united in a way by a central melody or a few melodies as the song is divided into different parts, which the remainder of the components begin to build around. Elements are added and taken away very quickly; it is a perfectly flowing and changing stream of musical consciousness. I have always enjoyed a song that employs a slow build, and that is basically what this entire project encompasses. The tracks slowly evolve into something fantastic which is new and interesting. The best example comes on “CHEETAHT7b”, which starts very slow and continues growing until the skittering drums which appear close to the end of the track are added, at which point it is a layered monster of a song.

If I have any criticism for this project, it is this. For music that presents itself as so intricate and creative, the same loop can tend to go on for an excessive amount of time or recur too often. The biggest culprit of this is “CIRKLON 1”, which contains a loop of a melody which disappears and resurfaces twice more over the course of the 7-minute track, when something different would have proven more interesting. But as I mentioned before, this is Aphex Twin’s world of sound to get lost in and nitpicking in such a way does a disservice to the sonic experiences he continues to provide over the course of his lengthy career.

Favourite Tracks: CIRKLON3 [Колхозная mix], 2X202-ST5

Least Favourite Track: CHEETAHT2 [Ld spectrum]

Score: 8/10

ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

blank facePerhaps I shouldn’t be reviewing this album, as the very first words uttered on ScHoolboy Q’s latest release Blank Face LP are “This that f— the blogs”. While I understand why you might feel this way, Mr. Q, please don’t hate me for constructive criticism. And fortunately, not a great deal is needed as the album is, at the very least, miles better than his previous attempt, 2014’s Oxymoron. ScHoolboy Q is a member of the label Top Dawg Entertainment, most famously housing Kendrick Lamar. Of the 5 rappers currently signed, I never regarded him on the same tier as the rest as he seemed to have a different approach to his music. Instead of being focused on lyricism and creativity like his labelmates, Q dropped track after track of straight and to the point, abundantly fun music about a singular topic – his life as a gangster on the West Coast.

While this is still the vast majority of the subject matter, ScHoolboy Q looks to join the rest of his TDE contemporaries by providing us with what he dubs a concept album, though I still have not been able to piece together the overarching message. In the wake of sprawling works like Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Q’s creativity game has been clearly stepped up. He foregoes his usual recycled West Coast trap beats for more intricate and complex instrumentation, often featuring live instruments (who knew we would hear this much electric guitar on a rap album in 2016) and quite a bit of layering.

The project also boasts a plethora of diverse and interesting personnel. A wide array of producers are present, very few contributing to more than one song on the project. This makes for a good variety of sounds ranging across the album, but still remarkably sounds quite cohesive throughout, at least instrumentally. ScHoolboy Q has clearly locked down this brand of dark and grimy West Coast hip hop in the modern era. For 17 distinct producers to work on an album and have it still sound like a fully fleshed out unit speaks volumes on its creative direction. Frequent TDE producer Sounwave (various tracks), perennial rap hitmaker Metro Boomin (“Dope Dealer”) and perhaps most surprisingly, Tyler the Creator (“Big Body”) did an especially commendable job. The project contains many beat switches mid-song, all of which are pulled off quite seamlessly.

In addition to the production, nearly every featured artist on Blank Face turns in an impressive verse, especially the older rap legends Q tends to invite onto his albums – Tha Dogg Pound, E-40 and Jadakiss all drop a number of memorable lines. I even love Kanye West’s much maligned turn on “THat Part” – I’m sorry, he’s just such a goofball that how could you hate it? “Beggars can’t be choosers b—- this ain’t Chipotle!”

ScHoolboy Q and the rest of the Top Dawg Entertainment roster

The main problem with this project is that I feel like ScHoolboy Q has so many ideas for it – so many that the overarching theme of a concept album is difficult to understand – that he couldn’t possibly have been expected to execute them all well. Many tracks have a variety of interesting elements but end up falling flat for one reason or another. The beat of “Know Ya Wrong” switches from a pleasant piano melody to one of the worst musical stretches on the entire album. I can see exactly what Q was aiming for on “WHateva U Want”, as Candice Pillay’s creepy vocals playing the role of an overly attached lover snake around the track, but Q’s vocal performance and energy is far from being there. Concept albums shouldn’t have filler, and most of the back half is. Q himself even said he didn’t want “Overnight” on the album, and it was forced upon him by the label. His flow starts getting lazier and rhythm is sacrificed for saying West Coast buzzwords over a nice beat.

Q also shows that he has an ear for melody and harmonies on tracks like “JoHn Muir”, and it leaves me wishing we had heard it more here. He does take a lot of risks on the project, why not that one? It would be especially welcomed because the hooks are somewhat of a weak point. Finally, at 17 tracks Q’s voice gets a little grating (“Str8 Ballin”). He tends to yell a lot, some of that could be attributed to the style of attempting to sound hard I suppose but it becomes a tad obnoxious.

All things considered, the more whimsical and fun side of ScHoolboy Q’s work might still be his best. Tracks like “THat Part”, “Dope Dealer”, and “Big Body”. It’s why his previous hits “Collard Greens” and “Man of the Year” were so ubiquitous. When Q starts a simple and deceptively playful flow on the outro of “Dope Dealer”, punctuating each line with “Boom!”, he is audibly having fun. A combination of this aspect with his new penchant for increased complexity in his music would certainly contribute to success in the future.

Favourite Tracks: Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane, Dope Dealer, Big Body, THat Part

Least Favourite Track: Str8 Ballin’

Score: 6/10

Logic – Bobby Tarantino

Rapper Logic releases a shorter project for the summer ahead of his forthcoming third studio album, set for release later this year, and continues his breakneck pace of releasing music. Being a mixtape, the project ultimately does not live up to a fully realized concept album like The Incredible True Story, but it is still an excellent showcase for Logic to demonstrate his skills over some rather impressive beats from close friend and frequent collaborator 6ix. As he has been mainly criticized for in the past, the songs here remain slightly derivative of contemporaries Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, though with this mixtape and the previous album considered, we are definitely moving in a positive direction.

The tape opens on a very strong note with previously released single “Flexicution”, as Logic speeds up his flow to match the feverish and hard-hitting beat, and throws in his typical brand of intelligent braggadocio which has been known to excite and energize the listener. As far as the scope of currently popular rappers go, Logic’s technical skill is quite unmatched as he double and triple-times his flow to deftly navigate through the beats. The speed at which he frequently raps is quite impressive given that his words remain crystal clear. While most faster-paced rappers rarely have the lyrical content to back it up, Logic does in spades. The project is full of clever lines, and while he can tend to fall into a system of set-ups and punchlines, the punchlines are often good enough that we don’t care.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons many believe Logic to be unoriginal is the fact that he explicitly references his influences almost too often. On a project with 8 full tracks, he finds a way to bring up Kanye West by name on 3 of them. He adroitly adopts Kendrick’s style of laid-back and conversational flows on closing track “Deeper Than Money”. The chorus of “Wrist” has Logic declaring that he goes “hard in the paint” and has been “flicking that wrist” – two popular rap songs.

If the lyrics are still a reflection of his peers, his creative direction is certainly cutting a path of its own – especially the way he speaks about his forthcoming third album, saying it is another concept album which he compares to Kanye’s third, Graduation. Logic takes risks on this project, even if they don’t all work. We haven’t heard autotune use from him before, as he employs on the chorus of “The Jam”, and while I probably would have preferred he hadn’t (his voice is honestly pretty good!), it is still interesting.

The instrumentals, too, sound less like they could be throwaways from the popular rap album of the time. Most are large and in your face, matching Logic’s excitable cadence. “Wrist” certainly stands out in this area, containing a beat primarily made up of deafening operatic choir vocals which raise the intimidation factor of the song – a perfect track for featured artist Pusha T’s trademark snarl. And even when the beat isn’t as strong on tracks like “44 Bars”, Logic comes through with the introspective lyricism. A recurring problem he has, however, is his repetitive material. When he delves into the more introspective territory on “Slave” and “Slave II”, they are topics we’ve heard him talk about before. At this point, I already know exactly what Logic thinks about his mixed race upbringing and what it means for his position in the rap game and do not need to hear it again.

Pusha T and Logic “Wrist” collaborators Logic and Pusha T

Logic is one of us. He still comes across as a normal, everyday rap fan that broke away from the pack and made it to the big leagues, and this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. On hilarious skit “A Word From Our Sponsor”, a fan calls Logic and is greeted by a hold message of a man excitedly listing Logic’s many achievements, including  his sales numbers, his rapid pace of releasing projects, his message of peace and positivity, and the many platforms he uses to connect with his fans, rhetorically asking “What rapper does that?!” And truly what other rapper would make a song over the beat of a Super Mario soundtrack while proclaiming Uncharted 4 and Jurassic Park “lit” in the background? There are still some kinks to work out, but Logic is carving out his own identity.

Favourite Tracks: Flexicution, Super Mario World, Wrist

Least Favourite Track: Slave

Score: 7/10

MAGIC! – Primary Colours

Canadian reggae fusion quartet MAGIC!, fronted by accomplished pop songwriter Nasri Atweh, returns with their sophomore album which is definitely a step up, but ultimately falls into many of the same holes as the first. Once again, the singles are clearly the main attraction, rising above the competition while the album’s second half falls into a repeating pattern of by-the-numbers filler tracks. For a band looking to evolve past their explosive #1 hit single “Rude”, even going as far as to dedicate a track to their disdain for the song, they do not seem to put any more effort into making a cohesive whole of a project. Instead, they once again put their energy into the creation of a select few spectacular singles. I would not be surprised if there is another worldwide smash hit in the bunch, and the cycle will repeat.

But of course, when Primary Colours is good, it’s very good and it stands as a refreshing breath of fresh air infused into the landscape of pop music. There is no real competition for this sound at the moment, barring Sean Paul’s apparent resurgence (he even pops up on this album!)It is something unique and interesting right now. The main problem here exists in the formula employed – it works very well in small doses, but stretched to album length it inches closer to monotony. A more diverse set of sounds would be welcomed on the next effort, while still keeping the classic sound that shot them to worldwide recognition.

After all, MAGIC! works best when they operate in full Jamaican mode. Something about that familiar rhythmic pattern of a reggae beat is still able to stand the test of time. “Lay You Down Easy”, featuring Sean Paul, and “Red Dress”, the two songs with the most reggae flavour and coincidentally-or-not the first two singles from the album, are far and away the two best. They fully grasp the opportunity these slinking backdrops provide to add other reggae conventions like harmonies and more complex rhythms which are not as present on their more pop-leaning tracks.

“Red Dress” in particular is a fantastic choice for a single and I hope it gets as much recognition as “Rude” did outside their native Canada. The same sense of sheer joy is there, and in the same way one can’t help but smile when they drops into the chorus again. It’s simply one of the most fun songs that have come along in a long time, and Atweh’s seductive and suave vocals complement it well. A near perfect track.

The band with plaques for “Rude”

Past the singles, however, the instrumentals tend to get too boring to try anything other than reggae. We don’t hear the genre anywhere else, which is why the first half of the album stands out, but the more downtempo ballads and pop songs they provide later verge on generic. If more creativity was injected here, the band could be a cross-genre force. “No Regrets” and “I Need You” are particularly slow and uninteresting. As mentioned, “Dance Monkey” is a thinly veiled declaration of the frustration associated with the success of “Rude”, saying that the labels jumped on the one song and took away creative direction, and his sadness at not appreciating his songs “from the heart” as much as they one they knew. A very interesting concept for a song, truly a shame that it is a formulaic pseudoreggae song which checks the boxes and does not have the same creative quality as the album’s first half.

Most of the songs then fall into this pattern. “No Sleep” is the bright spot in the album’s second half; while the song is incredibly repetitive I don’t mind because it’s so downright hilarious. The song is a lament on life while married with children, getting no sleep as a result. All things considered, MAGIC! is a band with so much untapped potential. Imagining the album that would result if the best tracks of their first two albums were put together on one makes me long for what could have been. Atweh’s voice is fantastic and he has written numerous hits for Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Jason Derulo and others. I still hold on to hope for future projects.

Favourite Tracks: Red Dress, Lay You Down Easy, Gloria, No Sleep

Least Favourite Track: The Way God Made Me

Score: 6/10