Rapid Fire Reviews (Rap Collabs, Kelly Clarkson)

Super Slimey cover.jpgFuture/Young Thug – SUPER SLIMEY

On this collaborative project, two of Atlanta’s most genre-defining rappers come together to continue to assert their dominance over some good old-fashioned trap beats. Future’s straightforward approach and Young Thug’s quirky eccentricities are an interesting contrast that frequently sinks or swims as a result of the instrumental. Thug works well on Future’s hard-hitting beats, but Future has a harder time crossing over into Thug’s jovial and airy world. While the project seems rapidly thrown together at times, as there are some mixing issues present, it’s a lot of fun to hear these two superstars playing off of each other.

If nothing else, the project immediately reminds you just how punishingly hard Future can go as it drops into the first wailing siren and hi-hat roll of “No Cap”. It is one of the most disgustingly grimy instrumentals this year and producer Southside quickly brings us into his world. It’s the shortest track here and ends far too quickly, emphasizing the slapdash quality of the mixtape, but it’s an incredible shot of energy. Southside’s other two beats here, “Three” and the Offset-featuring “Patek Water” are equally impressive as he shows why is the most accomplished producer on the project.

Solo tracks here, especially Young Thug’s “Killed Before”, which is creatively built from a bass-heavy trap beat and a tropical acoustic guitar loop, are often better executed than the collaborations, as the two never quite click perfectly. Bringing together one of the most consistent and one of the most endlessly creative rappers doesn’t mesh, they are better excelling in their own lanes. At times, someone like Future sticks to his formula so much that a lower-effort project like this sees him becoming derivative as well. For two established hook men, you’d think there would be more sticky hooks here than there are – the project is more like a streamlined trap experience than clearly defined ideas. Of course, there are bound to be more than a few incredibly fun moments in that experience, and the project is still a necessary listen for a trap fan despite its shortcomings.

Favourite Tracks: Three, Patek Water, Killed Before, No Cap

Least Favourite Track: 200

Score: 6/10

Kelly Clarkson - Meaning of Life (Official Album Cover).pngKelly Clarkson – Meaning Of Life

Kelly Clarkson, now on her eighth studio album and under a new label, has been speaking recently of her desire to return to her American Idol roots, straying from her pure pop sound and coming back to the realm of R&B/soul music. She certainly has the voice to do so, and Meaning Of Life has become one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. Despite the first third of the album being standard pop fare that fails to excite (why does a singer of this caliber deliver a lead single in “Love So Soft” where she stays on a single note?) we soon get into Clarkson’s incredible passion projects as the album continues to get better and better through the middle.

The album doesn’t pick up until “Whole Lotta Woman”, a confident and sassy half-rapped track reminiscent of Bruno Mars’ 24k Magic. But Clarkson’s true power comes in tracks like “Medicine”, “Cruel” and “I Don’t Think About You”, where she gets to show off her technical ability and R&B sensibilities. “Cruel” especially stands out as an old-school R&B track where Clarkson demonstrates some incredible range and more soul than we’ve heard from her in years. Her reassertion of that incredible chorus an octave higher over the groove of the funk bassline shows some serious emotion as well. Her voice is dynamic and capable, running through whistle tones, more subdued and sensual tracks like “Slow Dance” and the full-voiced belt that comes up on the more upbeat piano jams and huge ballads. Clarkson compared “Medicine” to Mariah Carey’s “Emotions” and dedicated the album to Aretha Franklin – these are the lofty vocal aspirations she has here, and for the most part, she delivers.

“I Don’t Think About You” is an incredibly powerful track as the instrumental is reduced to just piano chords, directing all the focus to Clarkson’s vocals. As she sings about her newfound confidence and happiness in the wake of a destructive relationship and throws some gospel harmonies on top, we build into a chorus where she progressively hits higher and higher notes at a crucial point to spine-tingling effect. The ordering of the album is slightly concerning, opening and closing with its safest tracks and misguided political angle on “Go High”, but Clarkson’s new soulful tone is a very welcome surprise and should introduce the singer to an exciting new chapter in her storied career.

Favourite Tracks: Cruel, I Don’t Think About You, Slow Dance, Medicine, Don’t You Pretend

Least Favourite Track: Heat

Score: 8/10

21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin - Without Warning.png21 Savage/Offset/Metro Boomin – Without Warning

21 Savage and Migos’ Offset team up with top tier trap producer Metro Boomin to deliver a horror movie-inspired project on Halloween. It’s almost impossible not to compare it to SUPER SLIMEY, but Without Warning is a much more well planned out and unique project, as Metro Boomin continues to be the only man keeping trap fresh with his constant reinventions and the diametrically opposed styles of Offset and 21 Savage complement each other surprisingly well. Where Offset brings out complex flows and those goofy ad-libs we know and love, 21 Savage’s menacing deadpan gets straight to the point. While 21 can frequently get annoyingly monotone, his ruthless and desensitized lyrics and persona are right at home over Metro Boomin’s eerie sounds here, especially with someone like Offset to play off of.

One of the best things about this project is that it clearly is not a throwaway mixtape – the transitions here are incredibly well-executed, especially as “Nightmare” is introduced by 21 closing the preceding track by repeating “It’s a nightmare on elm street”. Metro Boomin’s work here is chilling, as wolves howl in the background and he programs his synths to sound like the wind whistling through the trees or the unsettling ambiance of a horror film. Adding his trademark hi-hats makes these beats exhilarating – On “Run Up The Racks” he extends a hi-hat roll longer than I’ve ever heard, nicely accentuating 21’s simpler flows on his solo track.

While 21 is so far into his character it becomes almost hilarious, Offset displays a side of himself here we don’t really see with Migos – while it was always clear that he’s the most technically skilled of the group, his flow switches and speedy deliver here is seriously impressive. “Ric Flair Drip” is the solo track that shows he could be just as much of a superstar as Quavo, while “Mad Stalkers” shows the best contrast between the two. 21 comes in with the hook after a particularly speedy string of syllables and metaphors from Offset, not mincing his words and issuing threats in that inhuman drawl. If Offset is the Joker, 21 Savage is Bane. The combination is deadly.

Favourite Tracks: Ric Flair Drip, Mad Stalkers, My Choppa Hate N****s, Run Up The Racks, Ghostface Killers

Least Favourite Track: Darth Vader

Score: 8/10

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Rapid Fire Reviews (Pink, Niall Horan)

Apologies for being gone for so long – I’ve been writing my graduating thesis for university but now I’ll be able to get this page back up and running like normal. There’s some albums here that are long overdue for a review so to catch back up I’m going to make a few posts with rapid-fire thoughts on some of these albums from October!

Image result for pink beautiful traumaPink – Beautiful Trauma

Pink recruits some all-star collaborators for her 7th studio album, and while they frequently make their presence felt in some great and emotional musical moments, the majority of Beautiful Trauma is incredibly safe. The project alternates between a familiar mix of soaring pop ballads that exhibit Pink’s gargantuan vocals and upbeat forays into electropop that come across as well worn-out. The outlier might be “Revenge”, a quirkier track where Pink dreams of taking revenge on her ex with some painfully awkward rap lines and delivery before Eminem swoops in with a hilarious and cringe-embracing verse in the way only he can, reframing the entire track as a goofy joke to be enjoyed.

In addition to the rap superstar, Pink brings in some of the biggest names in pop music in Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, Jack Antonoff and Julia Michaels. The latter two do the best work here, Michaels applying some of her trademark heartbreaking lyrics to emotional tracks “Barbies” and “For Now” and Antonoff producing the best track here in “Better Life” where we get some great harmonies over an energetic beat and subdued, jazzy piano chords and finger snaps – despite his inexplicable decisions on the title track, which contains 2 abrupt shifts in energy that fall flat.

Pink is undoubtedly a vocal powerhouse capable of conveying the emotion behind these huge pop ballads and she frequently impresses across the course of the album, but when she insists on reaching into the highest part of her register it can get annoyingly shouty – especially on closing track “You Get My Love”. Overall, Beautiful Trauma has some really great highs but is frequently too derivative to be memorable.

Favourite Tracks: Better Life, But We Lost It, For Now, Revenge

Least Favourite Track: You Get My Love

Score: 5/10

Niall Horan Flicker.pngNiall Horan – Flicker

Former OneDirection member Niall Horan continues the surprising trend of his bandmates releasing much better music than they ever did while part of the collective. As each member seemingly diverts to a different genre of music, Horan adopts the acoustic singer/songwriter angle and delivers an album of powerful pop ballads. While it may be very easy to compare him to Ed Sheeran, as he sticks to the formula the superstar adopted, Horan’s calming vocals and assistance he got from Greg Kurstin on this project ensured a solid debut.

We open with the maddeningly catchy “On the Loose”, built around a pounding beat and a pleasant sliding guitar pattern as Horan’s vocals cascade on top of each other into the chorus. These are some smartly written pop tracks – and Horan has primary credit on every one of them. Even some tracks, like single “This Town”, fall into a repetitive and unexciting territory in terms of the instrumental, Horan’s vocals are more than enough to carry these tracks. Subdued and emotional, he puts his heart into every word and truly delivers the emotion of these romance-oriented tracks. While we all know “Slow Hands” by now, the single truly took me by surprise. He sounds absolutely effortless on the track, and the underlying bassline groove distinguishes it from the rest of the album and sends the track over the top. Other highlights include a nicely harmonized duet with country singer Maren Morris on “Seeing Blind” and Kurstin’s “Since We’re Alone”.

As we get closer to the end of the album, the tracks definitely do begin to blend together a bit. The Sheeran influence is worn on Horan’s sleeve, and the slower acoustic ballads that close out the album are similar enough to get a little sleepy. Still, Flicker is easily the most consistent post-1D album yet.

Favourite Tracks: Slow Hands, On The Loose, Too Much To Ask, Since We’re Alone, Seeing Blind

Least Favourite Track: Flicker

Score: 7/10