I first set my eyes on Jared Lee, known as DUCKWRTH at a Rich Brian show back in 2017, he was the opening act and I was immediately captivated by his set. His set started off with a DJ diving deep into his funky world by playing “Mirage” by Toro y Moi, although not his song, he carried through with an expressive entrance. DUCKWRTH wore a British flag muscle top, skinny trousers, boots, and a slick hairstyle. He was all over the place in terms of performance: He danced, took of his shirt, and crowd-surfed. His energy, presence, raps, sound, and style were so distinctive and unmatched that it made me an instant fan.
DUCKWRTH is a rapper and songwriter who hails from Los Angeles; however, most of his musical development began in the Bay Area. He started posting music online in 2012 with releases such as the DUCKTAPE mixtape and the singles “THRILLA” and “Shaolinin’.” While it wasn’t enough to kick him off his feet right away, it gave him a framework for his sound that speaks to DUCKWRTH’s musicality, what he calls a “Jambalaya Concept.” The concept is marked by DUCKWRTH’s ability to deconstruct genres and transform them to create a unique sound. Lee’s style mostly covers funk and hip hop, but blends elements of R&B, rock, and house together. “LOWRIDR” from his debut album, I’M UUGLY, illustrates this: the song uses a boom-bap style beat and takes an R&B and funk groove topped by rap. His raps cover a variety of concepts, but mostly span around themes of coming-to-age, love, pride, and indifference– this being juxtaposed with the danceability of his groove, make serious messages all more accessible to the average listener.
Since the beginning of his musical career, DUCKWRTH has emphasized experimentation and integration in his music. From the laidback DUCKTAPE, to his 2015 collaborative effort with the Kickdrums titled Nowhere, to his debut album, and his dramatic and more intense 2018 releases, “FALL BACK” and “SOPRANO,” -all of which are a part of his “UUGLY” brand. The “UUGLY” brand represents is creativity and authenticity, which is at the heart of DUCKWRTH’s music.
In a busy roadhouse restaurant in Walnut Creek, California, I sat down with Matt Firenzé over a plate of Chicken & Waffles. He’s the mastermind producer behind Matt Firenzé beats on YouTube. His producer specialty lies in creating type beats. We discussed the effect of type beats in his own career, his process of producing type beats, and professional advice. Firenzé’s world lies nestled within the beat making community, particularly the type beat community, on YouTube. It’s a small, underground community compared to the likes of other YouTubers. Firenzé states that “the biggest type beat producers are still dwarfed in comparison to other YouTubers. So the biggest type Beats producer might have a million subscribers. Whereas you look at Ninja who plays video games, he has 30 million or more.”
That’s probably why you’ve never heard of type beats before. And if you haven’t, type beats are the over-labeled instrumental tracks found on YouTube. They’re tagged by feeling, genre, and most notably, an artist’s style that the type beat’s sound is most similar to. For example, the rap trio Migos’ sound is defined by a long trap bass. In that case, Matt Firenzé would create a type beat that has a long trap bass and label it “Migos Type Beat,” and upload it to YouTube. The same goes for other artists such as Drake who is identifiable by their R&B/Pop-rap sound, and DJ Mustard who utilizes a slow-tempo and repetitive handclaps. To be clear, type beats are not copies of the artists beat, that would be in violation of copyright laws. Type beats are original compositions, labeled to the artist who would sound best on that particular track. Between an artist’s composition and a type beat instrumental, there are similarities, but never outright copying.
Type beats are feeding a community of amatuer & newcomer artists. Since making music has become more accessible, as all you need is your phone microphone to rap or sing, many new artists look to type beats to use for their own songs. It’s easy to see why as type beats have appeal. Their cheap, accessible, have pre-made song structure, and most importantly, they have the big-name-producer sound. If an artist needs a Pharrel beat all they have to do is type “Pharrell type beat” into YouTube’s search bar, and immediately buy it. This has removed a process that originally was expensive and exclusively professional. No longer do artists need money for a top producer or the skills to create the track for their song. Instead, all they need is $30 bucks for a .WAV file.
The nature of appeal for type beats have led to a surge in popularity, making type beats expand past their homes on YouTube and on the charts & in the tracklisting of the most successful and professional artists. In an interview, San Francisco Bay Area rapper P-Lo confessed that his song, “Type Beat,” off his then-brand-new EP “Something Light” was inspired by the type beats that replicated his sound on YouTube. He searched up “P-Lo type beat” and found a bunch. Fetty Wap’s 2014 hit, “Trap Queen,” was created off of the back of a type beat. In 2016, Desiigner, racked a #1 from Billboard’s Hot 100 for his song “Panda,” whose instrumental track was purchased on YouTube. As more artists use them, type beats prove that they are a force within the music industry.
For Matt Firenzé, creating type beats began unexpectedly. Before type beats, Matt Firenzé was simply a beat maker. He had been making beats for years in college, and he continues to make beats on the weekends and after work; whenever he can. After seeing his friend make beats, he decided to start a YouTube channel for himself. “I got into it from a buddy of mine who used to live in Livermore. He made beats and he was doing really well that he moved to L.A..” He tells me. YouTube is a platform for his beats. While seeing how profitable beat making was, he started to market his beats as type beats as a way to gain coverage. “So I had already been making beats before. Then, I just realized that the beats I already had could be uploaded and marketed as type beats.” Firenzé’s case is commonly the case for many other type beat producers. Producers need a way to market their material, and type beats give them the opportunity to do so. When a producer uses a big artist name on their material, YouTube’s algorithm picks it up and sends it into a “rotation,” as Firenzé calls it. Once it’s in the algorithm, it shows up as a recommendation, encouraging the user to click it. It’s a smart move. Imagine watching a music video from Ariana Grande, then being forwarded to an Ariana Grande type beat.
For Matt, he begins making a beat by listening to music. The inspiration from music is how he got his start, and it continues to aid in his craft today. “I listen to music all the time. So whenever I’m going in between classes, I listen to music. If I’m grocery shopping, I have music. If I’m doing homework, I’m listening to music. That’s why when I go into making beats, it’s automatic.” That automatic process is what Firenzé calls the joy of making music. “The joy of making music is when I’m at work, and I hear a melody in my head. So I have to go to the bathroom to voice record that melody before I forget it. And when I get home, I make that beat. And usually when a beat comes to me in that way, then I usually have the entire beat in my head created before I even put it down.” And thats when the beat moves into it’s drafting phase. All Firenzé does is tweak the beat. “I’ll play with some synths and find a sound by listening to music.” Then he envions which artist works best for the beat. He asks “Who do I see on this beat? Who’s this beat in the style of?” and then he titles the video by tagging the artist’s name. He finishes it by uploading the video, putting together a cool picture, and then watch the video quickly pick up views. Currently, Firenzé is getting inspiration from Skepta right now since he dropped his album. His last two beats were Skepta type beats. “Just listen to way more music because you’ll eventually know what your ear wants to hear and you’re subconsciously training your ears just by listening to music.”
Listening to music can only get you so far. You can develop your sound as much as you want, but how do people listen to your beats? You simply can’t wait for your beat to gain traction on itself. To make it as a successful type beat producer you have to pay close attention to the trends. Catering to trends in music and outside of music can bring in attention. Matt does exactly that, he studies and notices patterns, then incorporates those trends into his beats.This is important because if you’re posting a video surrounding a trend, you’ll generate more buzz that will push YouTube to send your video into rotation. This was the thinking behind Firenzé’s beat titled, “Bath Water”: “These females on Instagram bottled their bath water, as a joke, and they sold it online and people were buying it. So, bath water was trending. So, I dropped a Drake and J. Cole type beat called “bath water” and it’s a picture of a tub with a rubber ducky. The beat starts with water drops building up into a [base] drop. That beat did really well.”
What Matt Firenzé is practicing, is a skill called strategic planning and marketing. Every type beat producer should learn this skill because your beats will be listened to. Firenzé advises newcomers to “Look at the news. Title a beat, and build it around that crazy thing.” You have to capture beats when trends are happening around it to draw crowds. Firenzé calls this, the greatest skill. “The greatest skill isn’t even being the greatest at type beats. I’ll listen to them [type beat producers] and think their beats are not that good. But they’re getting way more plays than what I am.” Leads to his a wise piece of advice, “knowing trends, knowing how to do marketing, knowing hook people in is important because I can have the greatest beat in the world, but if I’m not hooking people in to hear it was like no one’s gonna listen.” It works both ways too: “If you’re not the best, but have really good marketing, you’ll be better than someone who’s actually better than you.”
Marketing your video using the title and release date is only one way to successfully break out. With making beats, you’re playing in a competitive field. Everybody with a computer can make a beat at this point. However, when working with beats, the best way to stand out is by utilizing promotion. Firenzé notes that promotion by tagging and reposting your work is a secure way to stay ahead and support yourself. Firenzé says everyone should “casts a fishing pole.” He sets up his dynamic like this: “The pond is like the music industry and your fishing pole is whatever you’re currently doing. You just can’t hope for your video to go viral. You can’t just cast one pole and hope that that’s one. You can’t rely on a video going viral. You can’t rely on the beat maker that you tweeted out to to repost you. You can’t rely on any of that. But what you can rely on is doing everything you can to get the highest chance of success.” He invites those to cast their fishing pole by promoting your songs for at least 2 weeks. Reposting and tagging your work on other channels help bring people to your channel. It also shows others that you’re serious about your work. “That’s kind of how I treat my beats. While not all my beats are going to do well, but some of them will do well.” Promotion operates as a tunnel, bringing people to your beat.
When you’re dealing with people who make a beat from your song, promotion is probably the most important thing you can do surrounding your beat. Many will skip promotion simply because it isn’t their song; however, Firenzé emphasizes that you want to tag the person using your beat. “Yeah, so if this guy wants to buy beat from me, I want to tag them on my social media and promote the fuck out of him, because it’s only it’s only positive. If this dude looks up my channel, he’ll see that I’m always promoting everyone that’s buying my beat. So it’s free promotion for them. They want to be tagged to me so they follow me and promote me.” It creates a string of events that causes more people to come to your channel. So, the best thing you can do is promote!
With promotion and sound development under wraps, type beats can be profitable. In Matt Firenzé’s second year of beat making, he was making thousands of dollars just by selling beats. When you’re at that scale, you’re making passive income. You want to hone your skills to secure the bag. As you build your catalog even more, your older beats are getting purchased and played, sending your other beats into the rotation. It’s a cycle that keeps on giving.
While type beats seem like a tricky field to break into, it’s not. New software like Ableton, FL Studios, and even Reason, has made producing more accessible. And YouTube gives you the platform for your beats. At the end of the day, making money off of type beats depends on how ambitiously you market & promote your beats. Any aspiring beat maker can learn from Matt Firenzé. He teaches those that developing your sound is just as important as promotion. Don’t ignore one or the other. That way, you can turn those type beat dreams a reality. Making a grand doesn’t seem so hard, huh?
Before you read the article, let’s set a premise: whatever you’re going through, I hope you get through it with flying colors. Whatever goal you want to achieve, I hope you achieve it and rid of all things that kept you from achieving prior. When writing this article, I was going through a break-up. I’d say I’m still healing from it, but I’m in a much better place than I was. The albums I listed are personal, and what helped me move-on. I’m definitely in a much happier place, and I want anybody reading this to know to trust the process of healing. These albums hold a place in my heart because they helped me face emotions in a way I’d never consider before. So, turn the speakers up, cover yourself in a fuzzy blanket, eats a lot of ice cream, and enjoy.
Kehlani – While We Wait
Label: TSNMI / Atlantic Release date: February 22th, 2019
Although this album chronicles how Kehlani’s relationship went from love at first sight to the dumpster, there’s lessons to be learned in her songs. Her lyrics recounting her experience are the centerpiece of the album. And if you listen closely, you’ll learn a thing or two. The greatest lessons comes at the expense of the most heart wrenching, twisted moments of Kehlani’s relationship. It comes at the climax of fighting on “Too Deep,” where Kehlani questions if fighting is worth staying in the relationship, and it comes when Kehlani makes her final resolution with her lover, respectfully recognizing issues in the relationship and departing ways on “Footsteps.”
This album alleviates break-up pain because it acts as a mirror, putting the reality of the situation in the listener’s face so they can go through heartbreak. The album makes you reflect. Every song offers a deeply nuanced, well-reasoned reflection that leads the listener to come up with their own conclusions about their relationship. Her songs bring up conclusions such as, “If you are questioning your worth, then it was the right thing for you to leave.” This albums gives you firm thought to help your break-up process go by faster.
Kiana Ledé – Selfless
Label: Republic Release date: July 12th, 2018
After a breakup, it’s hard to realize who you are and what makes you happy. You can become full of resentment, despair, and loneliness that those feelings can take over you. You don’t want to lose yourself in the process of recovery. Selfless is an alternative option so those feelings won’t take you over: the opportunity to resonate with those feelings. Kiana’s lets the listener know, her reactions may as well be yours too. No you’re not insane, no you’re not crazy, and no you’re not irrational. Crying over the breakup doesn’t make you weak. Selfless allows the listener to find strength in their emotional turmoil so they can find comfort and move on.
The album pushes the feelings of resentment, envy, and despair. In “Shame,” Kiana condemns her ex for being a better person with another lover than with her. On “EX” Kiana contemplates staying friends with her EX because she still loves him dearly (you know, those relationship withdrawal symptoms). This album doesn’t help you by giving you advice, but letting you recognize your feelings. It’s okay to be sad.
Frank Ocean – Blonde
Label: Boys Don’t Cry Release date: August 20th, 2016
There is nobody better with words than Frank Ocean. He’s a Scorpio for christ-sake, emotional storytelling is his specialty! No one can evoke such strong emotions. His vivid imagery, poetic lyrics, and nostalgic breakup recountals evokes strong emotions that no other artist can bring to mind. His stories are taken to another level with the production and execution of his songs– Blonde steps away from the R&B we’ve come to know from the radio. It’s even a departure from the sounds of Channel Orange. The listener hears lush synths, honey-like guitar riffs, and beautiful piano-keys instead of percussion-heavy numbers. That type of sonic landscape encourages the listener to be transported. You’ll focus on the intense emotions and triumph heard on his songs. On “White Ferrari,” The precise synth lifts you up and caresses you in Frank Ocean’s words. You almost feel as if this is the sound of warmth and clouds until the guitar strums finally find its way to give the song a slow rhythm with Frank Ocean singing above it: “I care for you still and I will forever / That was my part of the deal, honest.” His lyrics get you more emotionally entangled in his story of love, commitment, and the comfort of it.
Moments like White Ferrari exist everywhere on Blonde. Songs like “Solo” and “Self Control” make you think deeply. Blonde takes you to an intimate place that brings to mind tender and sentimental emotions, moving you on to reminiscence on the good moments. That washes out all the resentment as you begin your new chapter.
Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby
Label: Dreamville / Interscope Release date: May 7th, 2019
Ari Lennox’s Shea Butter Baby celebrates independence so that the newly-heartbroken can embody liberation. Ari Lennox wants her listeners to triumph in their new environment. However, Ari lets listeners know that it isn’t always easy being alone. This will always happen on your journey. Emotions spill on the tracks “Whipped Cream” which entail Ari’s insecurities that broke her relationship. She sings about how she wishes she wasn’t jealous and so old. Although sad songs exist on Shea Butter Baby, they only reinforce the triumph Ari Lennox reaches post-relationship. The flavor of Shea Butter Baby hides within Ari Lennox’s successes with new found independence. On “New Apartment,” Ari has a place all to herself. She’s reached peak independence. The New Apartment represents being set free from the chains of a partner’s expectations and judgement. No more is Ari Lennox tied down. The number “BMO” is the sexual liberation anthem– literally, BMO stands for Break Me Out. Ari’s sexual freedom only came due to the breakup, but she embraces her sensuality.
Moments like these only could happen at the cost of a breakup, but it’s worthwhile and that’s the lesson Ari teaches on her debut. So, next time Shea Butter Baby plays, pop a bottle of champagne and make a toast to embarking on a new chapter in your life!
As we watch two rap superstars, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, engage in a full fledged battle over who is a better rapper, they have left the arena empty for female empowerment. The fighting has forced the masses to pick sides, and as a result, crowds have pit the two artists against each other. Fans and non-fans alike have compared their bars, sales, and reputations and used this as a tool to tear them down.
Back in the 90s, there was a strong unity between female rappers. They coexisted with each other, often sharing the stage. In 1994, Lil’ Kim released “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix),” which was a testimate to it; the song featured Missy Elliott, Angie Martinez, Da Brat, and Lisa Lopes, all of who were amazing female rappers. Thinking back, this was a landmark moment in hip-hop history that celebrated females in a male dominated industry. It’s something that’s not apparent in today’s rap landscape despite the fact that we have a vast amount of female rappers who are in the spotlight, but not supportive of each other. This goes to show that now more than ever, rap is in a state where it needs more female empowerment, especially since the last big female rap reunion song was released more than twenty years ago.
“LMK (What’s Really Good Remix)” is the solution to our long awaited call for female empowerment: the song brings together some of the most polarizing and demanding figures in rap today who celebrate each other to deliver an anthem. The ladies call out the men who exploit them when picking them up, telling listeners how someone should pick them up. The song reads well in the club or on a tinder profile. With that said, it’s the girls night out we’ve all been waiting for. These ladies build up their attitudes and agenda, spitting slick raps and verses along a smooth and slick rework of the original “LMK.” They all show their best moments with Junglepussy leading the way with a killer verse: Junglepussy teases whoever might pursue her or not, taunting, “You could sleep on me but then you’ll see me in your dreams / You will never leave me, you my BRB / You’ll be back crawlin’ right back on your ashy knees like please.” Then it turns to the other girls, with Princess Nokia rapping “Will you let me know if you’re riding with?”, CupcakKe demanding that she’s not “looking for Cupid,” and Ms. Boogie stating, “I make the rules so they obey me.” These girls push the most powerful messages and call out the issues surrounding female empowerment across all platforms, not only that, but they push this message together. For a rap crisis, “LMK (What’s Really Good Remix)” saves the day.
The subject of loss is nothing new to Amber Mark. Her debut EP, 3:33AM was an ode to it. The EP focused on her sorrowful emotions and journey coping with her mother’s death. Just like 3:33AM focuses on loss, so does her latest EP, Conexão. Conexão centers around a relationship that started off with high hopes but eventually failed. However, rather than concentrate on the grief and sulk in the loss it brought, Conexão shifts focus to the victory Amber finds to embrace after fully coming to terms with her loss. The track “All The Work,” full of groove and spunk from her latest, exemplifies this victorious feeling.
“All The Work,” embedded in sophisticated loose cuts of house and bossa nova, is Amber pushing past personal boundaries that have kept her silent and instead, offers a different narrative to her music that is eager to be heard. She flaunts her pain created by her ex and turns it into courage that allows the listener to engage with her story. From the beginning of the song, Amber makes it clear that she has been hurt, cooing, “I have cried many miles worth of tears / Damn well tried, I gave up all these years.” Then, the house beat kicks in, letting her newfound bravery unfold. Amber sings, “Now that I, I put in all the work / Down in all the dirt / You want to try, to say that you and I / Should get back to how we were.”
Here, Amber is simply reminding him of all the work she has done to uphold the relationship, and now that the relationship is in danger, he wants her back, to which Amber replies, “I’ve moved on.” The punchy percussion aids her story and grants her to lay down her unpleasant experience in the relationship with authority and force. The beat adds emotion to the words where you can feel the intensity of her displeasure. She channels victory with these words, her realization, puts her on the opposite side where she is no longer being mistreated, instead now she is empowered by her words. This feeling of empowerment is the best aspect of the song, as it allows the listener to let go of all the bad that has happened and enjoy what they have achieved on their own. Amber does it too, In the final phase of the song, she lets the hammer fall down singing, “All of a sudden, I’m all you need.” This being the outro to Conexão, represents how things have changed since the start of her unhealthy one-sided relationship. She speaks with unforgiving confidence from now on, no longer miserable. Letting go of him, she allows herself and the listener to partake in her success and endurance.
As LOONA (stylized as LOOΠΔ) continues to solidify themselves as K-Pop’s most talented acts who have the presence and ability to compete in the fast-paced and saturated industry, they continue to distinguish themselves amid the competition.
It’s known that K-Pop is a fast-paced business. Companies spew out a catchy song along with a heavily choreographed dance to a group each month, so little time is taken out towards creating a quality song. However recently, LOONA has been breaking this routine, or at least moving past the ever so basic pop song. You can date this to the start of LOONA’s debut process, where each girl of the 12-member group has released an amazing song that veers past a catchy melody every month. Each song, true to the identity and character of each girl, shows its powerful abilities in singing and rapping. The songs come fully equipped with top notch vocals, amazing productions, and aesthetic visuals that go beyond what the K-Pop industry has been accepting for the past decade.
“love4eva” by their sub-unit LOONA yyxy is no different from this. The unit, consisting of Yves, Olivia Hye, Chuu, GoWon has made a joyful splash into the K-Pop world with the help of experimental pop artist Grimes. It’s fitting that Grimes and LOONA have collaborated together. Both artists have created their own distinctive musical worlds that elevate each of their sound and style and they seem to fit perfectly with each other through this collaboration. Grimes helps introduce the girls into their “sweet” feelings and set the tone for the bubbly track as they analyze love’s emotions with confusion and ambition. “Love4eva” explodes with colorful synths and carries an energetic bouncy beat which is finally aided by an EDM dance break definitely inspired by Grimes’ experimental style. Having E-Tribe hands in production, the duo has churned out a cute tune for the girls that sounds both lively and classic, completing the debut process for each of the girls and introducing LOONA yyxy to the world.
My Dear Melancholy, gives us a piece of what The Weekend once was, almost going back to the mystery man synonymous with Abel Tesfaye. This album uncovers the pop-facade that Abel has been hiding under and along the way, reveals secrets.
Since The Weeknd landed a spot as one of the biggest pop stars in recent history, his evolution from explicit R&B singer to pop star has been somewhat disastrous; dead ends and false hopes have pervaded his growth at almost every turn. This route started when he first popped up onto the scene with his three mixtapes that presented a bruised world surrounding themes of drug use, lustful experiences, and self-hate. Soon after this, false hopes start to appear on his debut, Kiss Land. It was a lackluster performance, considering that the Weeknd pursued a topic typical for a debut, as most of it revolved around the idea that fame changed things. Although his breakout produced some of his best work released as The Weeknd, like “Tell Your Friends,” it also produced his most pop-formulaic songs, such as “Can’t Feel My Face” and “In The Night.” Lastly, On Starboy, his persona fully transformed and so did his sound; it was now fully studded with an electro-R&B flair and this is where it suffered the most, a major pitfall for conforming to pop’s electronic infatuation.
Despite the disappointing change he made on Starboy, My Dear Melancholy, marks a move towards darker sounds and opens the door for a more vulnerable narrative, and in The Weeknd’s case, it marks a change for the better, a change that still manages to keep The Weeknd at his most interesting. The truth is that, The Weeknd didn’t soar to extraordinary heights on Starboy where he went full fledged into his newly refined R&B-electronic image. My Dear Melancholy, lets us know that the extraordinary heights that he put in place on Beauty Behind the Madness and in the Trilogy series are still in reach and the reaches towards those heights sound amazing on this album.
The Weeknd picks up where he left off on Beauty Behind The Madness, continuing to deliver his dark bruised world. However, what makes My Dear Melancholy, different is the fact that so much emotion and vulnerability is poured onto this breakup album. It sounds perfect for post-breakup sulk and relief, given that the album comes flooding with dark brooding synths and many pleas as he sulks in regret and realization. “Call Out My Name,” sets the scene for the album: The Weeknd is in a battle with himself, finding himself having to either indulge in past pleasures or move onto better things. He fights with his regrets, as he delivers several emotion packed punches and belts of notes, stating “You gave me comfort / But falling for you was my mistake,” over a sample of “Earned It,” that gathers intensity until he reaches his breaking point eventually pouring out: “So call out my name / Call Out my name when I kiss you so gently / I want you to stay.” “Try Me” sees Abel begging for acceptance after the two have parted ways; it may sound like a call to a fight, but it’s a call to home instead. He pleads with his ex to leave her current partner to “try him” one more time. Abel then moves past the relationship and accepts his regrets, sorrows, and states his goodbyes throughout the songs “Wasted Times,” “I Was Never There,” and “Privilege.” These three stand out as the most emotional in The Weeknd’s career and reintroduce his cloudy dark sound along with his vulnerable narrative. They embrace his past of substance abuse and his ominous production and you see Abel confront his feelings for the first time. “Wasted Times” sees The Weeknd starting to accept his regrets. Abel sings about substance abuse on “I Was Never There,” even acknowledging the use of it to ease the pain, stating “So, I posion myself again, again / ‘Til I feel nothing.” Finally, on “Privilege,” Abel states his goodbye by addressing the relationship first hand and how he is going to forget about it — he gives his action plan: “and I’ma fuck the pain away, and I know I’ll be okay,” coming to the conclusion that maybe love isn’t for him afterall.
Although My Dear Melancholy, is not a complete 180 turn around, nor so innovative as the Trilogy series, it does serve it’s justice putting him back right before his electro-studded Starboy, on the route where The Weeknd is at his most interesting. The outcome of it all is a cloudy emotional album that concludes that The Weeknd sounds best when he has experienced the worst.
Björk is back with her “tinder” record that is a wound in the process of recovering. She is full of hope and newfound love, a departure from Vulnicura, the breakup record which marked the end of the inspiring (and die-hard) Vespertine era and her relationship with Matthew Barney. She starts anew on Utopia, inspired, optimistic, and hopeful for the future.
In 2001, Björk released Vespertine, an album that was a showcase of her strong-willed love for her then-new marriage with Matthew Barney. Vespertine captured the intimacies of love (“Pagan Poetry” & “Cocoon”) and covered the emotions felt being in love (“It’s Not Up To You” & “Hidden Place”) in lush expression and lyrical value. She sang with passionate raw emotion, sometimes describing explicitly what physicalities and emotions drew this special feeling. One could say that this is the Björk that was passionately in love. Now fast forward to 2015, to the breakup album Vulnicura. We see Björk take on themes of melancholy, sorrow, and sentiment as she recalls this breakup. She describes in prolific detail about it, taking note of every event and feeling covered that leads to the eventual split, including wanting to salvage the relationship once lost & questioning (“Stonemilker” & “Lionsong”), the final moments of intimacy (“History of Touches”), the dismantle of the family & rage felt (“Black Lake” & “Family”), and the confront of the sorrow and split altogether (“Notget”). She even added production play where the listener could hear the breakdown of the relationship with glitch-pop and swift changes in instrumentation, as tempos pick up and slow down again to display the intense emotions felt.This album single-handedly ended the Vespertine era, which was about love and lust, and was now overthrown by Vulnicura, an emotional plague of depression that opened a bittersweet wound full of gloom.
Now, Björk is facing utopia. Her open-chested wound has started to heal and transform into optimism, assurance, and hope. She is inspired, in love, an admirer and no longer in distraught. The first tracks of the album showcase an ode, one to display how far the wound has healed, giving off splendor, warmth, and love. Harps, light flute melodies, colorful grandeur synths, and vibrant animal noises cover every corner of Utopia to back up the song with vibrant colors and soaring sounds. Explosive splendor synths, chiseled cymbal paradiddles, and a mystical harp arrangement set the stage on “Arisen My Senses,” and for the rest of Utopia. “Just that kiss…” Björk sings in melody, “Was all there is.” she sings with a breathe, a song about the realization of love to all her senses. “The Gate”, “Utopia”, and “Body Memory” shows Björk for all what Utopia is at this moment, her wound healed. They find her at her best, assured and able to love again. “Features Creatures” calls Björk regaining her ability to love again once lost, bringing her sexuality and attraction to the front.
As the wound is continuing to recover, Björk still hurts. Darkness and the same breaks of glitch-pop and swift changes in instrumentation arise on Utopia. “Courtship” leads the listener up to this darkness, acting as a grand transition from the light & airy to the dark & suffered. It’s a fast tempo track with only a little air time to ventilate recalling her time with Barney once again as she did on Vulnicura. Themes of darkness then build out further on “Losss” and “Sue Me” as the past relationship with her ex still haunts her. Lyrics on these tracks take on themes of sentiment, assertiveness, and universal truth. “We all are struggling, just doing our best / We’ve gone through the grinder, suffered loss.” Björk sings on “Losss,” directly talking about the past detrimental Vulnicura. However, as Vulnicura and Barney hurt her so, she asserts herself in “Sue Me” finally regaining ground as she is no longer hurt. She demands Matthew, through a custody battle for their daughter Isadora, integrity and maturity; to step up to the plate to a fight she does not wish to take part in. She is found at her most vulnerable, the most powerful.
In the last final tracks of Utopia, Björk’s wounds have healed. She finds her utopia and shares her final hope for the future. Her utopia is revealed through her intricate relationship with music and nature; essential callings Björk has made clear album to album. Then, on “Future Forever,” a delicate ending, Björk shares a utopia where we can all take part in and does this using glimmery synths and organ-like chords to back her up, a future with endless possibilities. “Imagine a future and be in it.” she wisps calmly, forming her dream. A future that we can look forward to if we believe in it so, it can come true she forms. This pushes us to be optimistic and forward-thinking; Björk’s true wish.
Shane Blanchard, who refers to himself as “Bane’s World,” a nickname given to him by friends in High School, is an artist from Long Beach, California. Bane’s World has come into the indie music scene at no better time; with the scene not even reaching its peak yet, he has already secured his presence as an outstanding artist among his peers: Cosmo Pyke, Cuco, and Temporex, who all share similarities in style and sound.
Shane has been putting out music for about 2 years now but has already garnered attention from artists like Temporex, who he’s collaborated with, and Tyler, The Creator, who recently attended one of his shows and shouted him out on social media. He’s a small artist who has one full project out named Drowsy, a title that is fitting for an artist like him whose sound gives off a drowsy feel, an effect that is delivered through synth-heavy tunes and guitar strums. His music almost sounds as if it were recorded underwater, giving it a wavy-dreamlike vibe. Shane’s style consists of a blend of slacker rock, lo-fi beats, and blues. A comparison of sound would be HOMESHAKE, who isn’t really confined to the slacker rock or lo-fi style, just as Shane, but whose music blends both of these genres to create a style unique to him. Funny enough, in an interview with Lucid Dreams Magazine, Shane even lists Mac Demarco and HOMESHAKE as a dream collaboration — which is appropriate considering that they both have similar sounds. If you’re into the combination of mellow tunes, slacker rock, and lo-fi, there’s no doubt that you’ll love Banes World. “Drowsy,” his first musical project, is filled with sad sounding love songs that are best listened to on a summer night. You can find him on SoundCloud, where most of his work lives, Spotify, BandCamp, Apple Music, and most streaming sites.
Kelela’s debut, Take Me Apart, puts her at the front of developing a new sound of R&B. The production of this album is sharply stunning and innovative while Kelela shines with her ability to flow and sing among this beautiful new cutting edge landscape while going in depth about the complexities and intimacies of love and loss with an unapologetic and confident approach.
In 2015, when Kelela released Hallucinogen, she set her eyes on a very undiscovered and uncharted sound which can be described as “futuristic.” The sound is emotionally evoking, heart-racing, and relies on experimental and electronic elements such as synths, layered vocals, and erratic drum beats, a nod to producer Arca. This new venture in sound set Hallucinogen to be her most daring release.
Now, on her 2017 debut, Take Me Apart, she continues to develop this sound by opening up the futuristic style to a variety of sounds. Offering different melodies, tempos, and multiple perspectives and outlooks on a relationship, other than only providing one as she did with Hallucinogen. She continues to cover the topics of relationships, love, and loss, but exceeds the expectation set by Hallucinogen and emphasizes those topics more with her newly regained unapologetic and confident attitude.
With this regained nature, Kelela is honest and isn’t afraid to cut to the chase. She’s assertive, sensuous, and bold– all which adds to Kelela’s delivery and her narrative. This is a motif that pervades Take Me Apart and it’s especially evident on tracks such as “Frontline,” “LMK,” and “Enough.” On the intro track, “Frontline,” Kelela sets the scene for the motif and the whole album. She is unapologetic in her delivery as she speaks of letting someone go with no regrets. “There’s a place you hold I left behind, I’m finished / Since you took your time, you should know why I’m quitting” she chillingly sings. In an added effort, she is bold when she goes back to her conscious and questions the relationship. “Why are you testing me / No, no, no, I’m not the one.” She warns with a sense of empowerment. At the end of the song, she revs up the engine and eventually drives away– symbolizing Kelela moving on as she leaves him behind. On the album’s lead single, “LMK,” Kelela builds on top this motif by adding a sense of sensuality as she sets the standards for one night stands and is blunt. She ambitiously pushes her agenda, letting the listener know she won’t let a mixed signal ruin her night. “I saw your eyes fall right past my waist, so let me know / I ain’t gonna wait if you hesitate, so let me know / I don’t wait for nothin’, baby.”
Even when the situation changes and Kelela is vulnerable, her confidence does not lessen. She continues to sing with dignity. In “Bluff” Kelela discusses a relationship where her partner is claiming to leave her. “I’m gonna prove you wrong / I’m calling your bluff”– she asserts these lyrics as she dares her partner to leave, shifting the two from the helplessness they feel in their relationship to a place where she challenges her partner.
On tracks like “Frontline,” “Take Me Apart,” and “Blue Light” the production is precisely futuristic. You hear this in the industrial, acute, glitchy, and innovative queues from Jam City– a new producer on Kelela’s team. On Take Me Apart Jam City produces tracks where the production is inevitably chilling and sharp and executions hit their mark perfectly. For example, look at how the executions are hit when the chorus unwraps Kelela’s chilling strong vocals on “Frontline,” “Take Me Apart,” “Blue Light,” it explodes with precise glitchy and flowy synths which build on each other to make a grandeur effect.
A contrast from the progressive wave of this album is that we get a style from Kelela that is reminiscent of 90’s R&B. By this, I am reminded of the late Aaliyah. On the light track “Altadena,” she utilizes this style to construct a meaningful track that lets her vocals flows easily with production and to the everyday listener; maximizing accessibility which is one of the key factors to this album’s appeal. This style, remnant of the 90’s, is achieved by layering Kelela’s soft vocals, giving a luxurious and warm harmonizing effect. She uses the same layered vocals to create a great fallback on “Truth Or Dare” and on the bridge of “Take Me Apart,” tracks that are modern but also honor the past.
I applaud Kelela’s set of producers on Take Me Apart. She’s able to create more for the futuristic sound by creating accessible tracks such as “LMK” and “Altadena”; Kelela is offering music that reaches every tempo but can fit into the boundary of this new sound she so indefinitely developed; there are club tracks, songs that are easy enough to play in the bedroom, and some that are perfect for a nice night drive. This is a mark which she missed on Hallucinogen but executed it perfectly on a debut album, showcasing where she is in the moment of contemporary R&B and her skillset.
From beginning to end, this album is a masterpiece. It perfectly showcases Kelela’s vision as an artist, which few can even capture on a debut album. It a nod to 90’s R&B, the future genres, and captures the present with a collection of iridescent tracks that transcend all these barriers. Its an honest narrative about the complexities and intimacies of love, lust, and loss with judgment peeled off. The album is passionate, Kelela sings with melodic coos and breathy stops switching off and on between strong and soft vocals while she keeps you on the edge of your seat with precise, stunning, and high definition production that evokes so much emotion. On this record, Kelela is bold. She lets you know how she feels and isn’t embarrassed if she comes off as vulnerable.