If people thought that New Jersey experimentalist and Kanye West protégé 070 Shake’s debut project, 2020’s Modus Vivendi, was heady, disorienting and hard to follow, wait until they hear her follow-up. Returning with You Can’t Kill Me, the GOOD Music signee’s latest project dives even further into her signature sound and feels a lot more like a psychedelic experience to get lost within than an album you’d typically consume from front to back. The songs blend indiscriminately into each other, jumping suddenly between melodies and motifs within each track. The project is scored dutifully by the legendary Mike Dean, who applies his futuristic and overwhelming electronic soundscapes to the proceedings. The enjoyment of this one is likely going to vary widely depending on the kind of listener you are, but when sitting on the couch and paying close attention, it’s hard to get attached to much on this project due to it feeling almost like a 49-minute freestyle. Still, a highly ambitious undertaking like this one only proves that 070 Shake is someone to watch intently.
The blaring maze of virtuosic synths that open the project on “Web” feel a little bit like a bizarre version of Tyler, the Creator’s recent work on albums like Flower Boy and IGOR – and it’s not just because Shake is repeatedly asking the listener what their favourite flower is as the cryptic lyrics begin. The layering of what seems like hundreds of synth parts becomes incredibly overwhelming and gets pretty impossible to listen to, but it’s certainly a powerful opening statement. The track “Invited” has one of the most memorable melodies on the project, and it’s one of the rare moments where some tangible emotion is able to break through all the madness of the instrumentals and the numerous vocal effects and filters applied to Shake’s vocals as she sings about trying to patch together a damaged relationship. Lyrically referencing gods and starry skies, Mike Dean responds in kind with massive echoing drum hits and what sounds like a music box playing a tune you might hear in a lullaby. “History” introduces the album’s schizophrenic nature with about 5 songs in one. Shake is far from the greatest singer in the world – which is honestly part of her power sometimes – but the returning vocal effects and everything being blown out to the most maximalist point can make for some truly dissonant and unpleasant sounds at times. The track blazes through a trap section, an orchestral piece where Shake is pitched down and sounds oddly like Frank Ocean, and a breathy and soulful pop-rap tune as she marvels at the mind-bending and spiritual love she is receiving.
The track “Medicine” is the first moment where the album devolves into complete chaos, opening with some spacey laser effects and extended buzzing synth bass before Dean’s guitar solos and queasy pitched vocals pop up indiscriminately in the background behind a droning chorus. The lyrics seeming to reflect a bitter murderous revenge fantasy don’t make things any easier. The single “Skin and Bones” is one of the most straightforward and structured tracks here up to a point – before the overwhelming synth tornado in its conclusion and a final, jarring switch-up to a darker sound, it resembles a Swae Lee melody sent to the Kanye school of maximalist experimentalism. “Blue Velvet” opens with some frantic and paranoia-inducing tribal drums before one of the most impressively-executed wild ideas on the project as Shake immediately calms things down with a hypnotic melody. While I still wish her singing was a little less dead-eyed to match her poetic lyrics, the track’s steady build back up to the point of introducing a horn section on the back end is an insane experience. “Cocoon,” on the other hand, actually brings the tribalistic, chanted mantra energy that the previous track promised, Dean’s synths as punctuating as ever as Shake’s melody sounds like a ghostly kid in a horror movie’s call as she sings about her inevitable rise. The beat drops when you least expect it, and it’s the most invigorating moment on the project.
The only feature on the project is another somewhat unexpected moment, as the art-pop titan Christine & The Queens appears on “Body.” The French artist’s touch immediately brings things into a bit of a house direction as some siren-style synths echo behind repetitive, jungley sounds and primal and sensual lyrical content. A Mike Dean synth solo at the end is always appreciated. While many moments in the back half pick up the re-listenability factor, a couple experiments like “Wine & Spirits” and “Stay” still manage to go off the rails. It feels like Shake is playing with rhythms that don’t line up on purpose, though it works a lot better when juxtaposed with the cathartic, trappy chorus on the latter rather than the cryptic and conspiratorial lyricism and acoustics of the former. “Vibrations,” as well, is more of a sound collage than a song itself.
Still, some more highlights appear at the end in the form of tracks like “Come Back Home.” You hear Shake’s vocals at their absolute clearest here, and it’s something that I wish was more pervasive across the project – the quirks in her natural delivery are something special. The orchestral hooks on this track act as more of a central, grounding force when the inevitable switch-ups come, making the whole thing feel more tonally and thematically consistent. “Purple Walls” is a track that makes the experience of two lovers staying for hours on end inside a room sound like the most spiritual, psychedelic thing imaginable, while the closer “Se Fue La Luz” finds her delivering some of the project’s most striking vocals in Spanish while singing about recovering from a breakup over some Disney-style romantic pianos mixed in with the industrial synth work.
070 Shake is someone who truly can’t be pinned down or categorized, and while her art might not be for everyone, it’s almost certainly going to strike an incredibly poignant chord for some listeners. While it’s impossible to predict where she goes from here, at least we know it’s going to be interesting.
Favourite Tracks: Cocoon, Come Back Home, Invited, Blue Velvet
Least Favourite Track: Medicine