The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.
British indie artists have a big week, whilst hip-hop trailblazer Tyler, The Creator returns…
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Scum Fuck Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator
Although Tyler, The Creator’s record company has cautiously reminded listeners that the album’s name is actually Flower Boy, without the harsh juxtaposition of Scum Fuck attached to the front, it feels almost a betrayal of the album’s core thesis to call it by any other name. Like Beyoncé last year and Jay-Z just recently, Tyler has offered up an album crafted to reflect himself, capturing the complexities of his character and refracting them through the prism of his music. His abrasive, audacious approach regarding wider themes is here, and he gives way to some of the horror-rap aspects of his earlier work on ‘Who Dat Boy’ (‘That cherry be the bomb like he ran in Boston’) and ‘I Ain’t Got Time’.
Of course, it would be foolish to talk about Flower Boy without mentioning Tyler’s sexuality, confirmed with grace and unexpected poignance on ‘Pothole’ and ‘Garden Shed’ (‘Thought it was a phase/thought it’d be like the phrase, ‘poof’ it’s gone’); but there are deeper thematic avenues being travelled, ones of damaged masculinity, loneliness and how the two intertwine. Tyler’s coy admissions of deep desire and emotional melancholy are marked by a clear, and very male, reticence (‘They say the loudest one in the room is weak/that’s what they assume but I disagree’), and confirm that juxtaposition of harshness and beauty that runt throughout.
Yet, in some ways, the musicality of the record pushes it ever closer to being called Tyler’s Blonde. Yes, it sometimes rumbles with angular percussion, as much of Tyler’s music has in the past; but it also takes a huge amount of influences from soul’s lithe sunniness and jazz’ supple chord structures, so as to reflect the fragility brought to the table across the record. It’s a deft balancing act, made more impressive by how light the whole thing feels. ‘Midsummer night’s dream’ might be an apt description for such a featherweight atmosphere, particularly on an album that deals so intensively with such downbeat themes. Such as it is, with Scum Fuck Flower Boy, Tyler has given us his personal masterpiece, a bear-all, complex record that will likely define him and his vision when all is said and done.
Universal High – Childhood
On Universal High, we see Childhood taking a huge step backwards. There was at least an enthralling currency to their debut, Lacuna, as there might have been here had they pushed their funk-influenced new sound into the moment. Instead, they woefully attempt to repeat the smooth ethereality of their debut by simplifying much of the structure in the songs to a two-chord motif, albeit switching keys from track to track so as to make it less obvious. It’s lazy, but noticeable from the beginning, and they lose their control on the influence of the 70s’ headiness by letting it define the songwriting as much as it does the atmosphere.
Emerging Adulthood – Dan Croll
Dan Croll’s sound is always surprising, blending some elements of the snotty suburban cynicism of Ben Folds with instrumentation lifted straight from Vampire Weekend. Emerging Adulthood finds him once again asking us to simply give into the cinematic sugar-rush of his music, which is sometimes easy, but is a big ask once the lyrical ideas become more obviously plain. The title Emerging Adulthood suggests a tantalising identity crisis, or a struggle to understand age, but often the lyrics are hopelessly bland, made up for by the dizzying (if occasionally overstuffed) arrangements.
Highlight: ‘Bad Boy’
Sacred Hearts Club – Foster the People
Foster the People’s newest album is a complete tonal mess. Amidst Mark Foster’s strange use of hip-hop meter in his lyricism and the overblown production that teeters between arena-indie rock and deep R&B, their indie credentials wane as each track passes. And yet, there is a sort of strange, awkward entertainment value in their garishly self-indulgent genre burst, like when ‘Loyal Like Sid and Nancy’ suddenly takes a complete left-turn in its final act towards a lush string arrangement and a mournful piano solo. Perhaps it’s lurid fascination with the laughable, Kanye-esque use of samples to structure some of the instrumentals that stops me from genuinely hating this album, but at least Foster the People sound like they had fun making it.
Highlight: ‘Loyal Like Sid and Nancy’
DUD OF THE WEEK: Lust for Life – Lana Del Rey
What’s probably more depressing about ‘The American Morrissey’s latest album than her melancholic prose is the fact that there is a better album lurking in the back end of this record than the completed whole. A ghastly first half, awkwardly sloshing together two quite different, but just as boring, strains of music (Del Rey’s sinewy dream-pop and laboured trap music), is made worse by some equally ghastly features from A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd. However, despite also managing a pretty unaffecting performance from Stevie Nicks in the second half, Del Rey does at least claim back some modicum of the gloomy devastation in her other work for some rather pretty ballads, including an enjoyable feature from Sean Ono Lennon on the ‘Across the Universe’ lookalike ‘Tomorrow Never Came’. But, at an hour long, the album’s almost record-breakingly sluggish pace makes it mostly a chore to endure.