My listening habits in August were like playing with a plate of mash potatoes without eating them. I dabbled with what was in front of me but never got enough to warrant a full impression. That might lead to a lot of albums for September or maybe I’ll never cover any of them. Sometimes you have to be in the right mood for a certain sound and I never found that groove for this month. So there’s only three albums this month. Here they are:
Have a Nice Life – Deathconsciousness
“Boney” is the word I settled on to describe this album. Its technical genre definition falls under shoegazing, ambient, post-rock, but I kept coming back to how almost every single sound feels like it’s reverberating off of bone walls. In a previous entry I talked about how The Mars Volta created an interesting album because you could listen to each song and pay attention to a specific instrument and hear what it was doing at different parts of the song. Deathconsciousness seems like the opposite approach, where focusing on individual tracks is not only impossible but antithetical to the concept of the album. Songs are treated like chemistry concoctions that are meant to be taken all at once. A song like The Big Gloom is easy to mark up as “noise,” since the vocals, guitar and even the drums are hard to make out individually, but the track taken as a whole accomplishes a mood that’s unique to the album.
Deathconsciousness is a dual album, the second part starts at “Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail,” which is where the album takes a notable shift toward a harder sound. The tracks on each song are more identifiable as opposed to the ambient pools of noise found in the first half, but the “boney” sound is consistent. The quality of the tracks is mostly consistent from the first half and second half. However like any dual album, it’d probably be better if you selected the best songs from either half and made one really good regular album. In this case: A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devour Connecticut, Bloodhail, The Big Gloom, Hunter, Telephony, Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail, Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000, and Earthmover. The final track is interesting because it’s the only track I can remember that has a cinematic moment that’s pulled off so well I thought to myself “this is so good, I hope the song never ends.” Followed by an outro that lasted so god damn long I had to acknowledge the song had gone on for too long. It is tough being an eleven minute song I guess.
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
This album came out earlier this year exclusively to either Apple Music or Tidal, either way I didn’t download it because I honestly feel if you’re going to lock your album behind a subscription service you deserve to have your album pirated. I have $10 dollars. I want to buy your product and keep it forever. You won’t let me. This isn’t a legality issue, this is a consumer issue. Anyway, it’s on Spotify now so that’s how I listened to it.
There was a three month period where I listened to Acid Rap on repeat. The sound of that album was something I had never heard before. It made an impression on me and has stuck since. Chance’s hasn’t made an album since and it’s clear that Coloring Book isn’t trying to be Acid Rap. Since 2013, it seemed like Chance was looking at feelings of nostalgia and how to inject them into songs without necessarily having a memory to anchor them to. He touched on this with The Social Experiment where he would perform the Arthur theme song for crowds and get a feel of the vibe of the crowd.
With all that in mind, the sound of Coloring Book makes complete sense. The album has been called “gospel rap,” for its laid back sound, ample jazz instrumentation and credentialed backing vocalists. Chance might not be instilling the psychological effect of nostalgia, but he has all the groundwork. These songs feel immediately familiar, like they’re part of your past. I associated them with relaxing in college townhouse rooms with my friends and listening to music talking about which artists we liked best. After a mere three or four listens the album feels like a classic.
That’s not to say that the album is so good it should be called a new classic, but the type of mood it sets feels like something you’ve been listening to for a while.
That said, there are traditional rap songs that stick out like sore thumbs. They’re dispersed at a rate that suggests Chance wanted to switch up the style every few tracks, which is to the detriment of the overall experience. It’s jarring to go from a personal song like Juke Jam to a loud party track like All Night back to the gospel-inspired song How Great. The majority of the album falls into the vision of a nostalgia-charged sound, which is why the outliers feel so out of place. In fact I got so hung up on those odd sounding songs I thought I didn’t like the album when in reality it’s a pretty solid effort. I need to give it some time before I decide how I can judge it, right now I feel like the tone of the album is great but a little manipulative.
Frank Ocean – Blonde
I’m not going to bury the lead: I think this album is disappointing. I’m a recent Ocean fan, considering I documented my discovery of Channel Orange just a month ago, but I could immediately see the appeal of Ocean’s artistry and why this album was so anticipated. Last month I noted how Channel Orange preferred scaled back production to focus on vocals and lyrics. It gave the album a pure essence. In a music industry that’s heavily criticized for auto-tune and effects that sedate the listening experience, Ocean’s approach was commendable. Blonde might have been trying to stick to that, but I think it goes too far.
Which is my way of saying this album is really boring. A minimalist beat was cool, but a lot of these tracks simply have no beat at all. Ivy, Solo, Skyline To, Self Control, White Ferrari, Seigfried, and Godspeed are beatless. I might sound like some musical conventionalist who’s reviewing an instrumental band and demanding that there’s vocals, but the choice doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. The songs that go the more traditional route are noticeably better. Nikes, Pink + White and Nights are the songs that reminded that I actually like Frank Ocean. Andre 3000 has a guest track with “Solo (Reprise),” which might give a window into what Ocean may have been going for. The song stands on its own thanks to a dramatic piano and aggressive performance from Andre, but I can’t imagine it would’ve worked if anyone else had tried to do the same.
The whole album doesn’t feel like four years of deep thinking and collaborating. It feels like a project that was thrown together in the past few months without much thought put into it. Most of all, it seems like fans have waited so long for this album they have a hard time admitting that it isn’t very good.
That’s all I got around to for August, but considering I’ve been ahead schedule for practically every month since I started this, I think I deserve to slow down a bit.