Monday, 10 December 2018
The biggest challenge with Some Rap Songs is the lack of actual ‘songs’.
Earl Sweatshirt has been getting progressively weirder and less accessible over the years. On this last album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, he did away with hooks and resorted instead to poetic depressed rambling over gritty and dark beats.
Now on his latest album, he’s groaning out each bar like it pains him, barely trying to stay on beat. Not that it's easy to rap over these beats – they’re so glitchy and jittery that they barely follow a rhythm in some cases, often sounding like a scratched CD. Every track begins and ends abruptly, lasting little more than a minute and made up of a single verse. The result is an album of hookless, grooveless, directionless rough cuts that can barely be classed as songs.
The first time I listened to this album I hated it. Even though I loved the lead singles ‘Nowhere2go’ and ‘The Mint’ for their weirdness, a whole album of abstract tunes was too much. It felt like trying to scale a concrete wall with nothing to grip onto.
Fortunately, this is the type of album that proves you need to give things a second chance sometimes. After listening to this again, I actually enjoyed it. As the rough samples and off-kilter rhythms become more familiar, it becomes easier to digest and you can start to lose yourself in the atmosphere of the album. In fact, it adds to the lyrical theme of the album, which sees Earl confronting feelings of being lost and muddled as he sinks worryingly deeper into a black hole of depression. Similarly, Earl’s loose and monotone flow helps to add to the feeling of being lost of muddled – were he sounding tight and energetic it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.
I’ve since grown to love even the woozier and more disjointed cuts such as ‘Loosie’ and ‘Red Water’. I think ‘Peanut’ may still be a little over my threshold, but otherwise I no longer mind the lack of conventional songs. There’s a hypnotic way in which they all feed into each other that gives these jarring tracks a sense of harmony. The short length of the tracks (and the short length of the album overall) also helps. Not only does it make it easier to give this record repeat listens, but it gives this album a fast pace that counteracts Earl’s slow delivery.
Towards the end of the album, there’s also a lot of personal meaning to the tracks. ‘Playing Possum’ sees him including recordings of his mother and father talking, weaving them together as if having a conversation with each other. ‘Riot!’ meanwhile features a snippet from a song recorded by his father’s friend – perhaps a tribute to his father who recently passed away. This helps to give a sense of what might be the source of Earl’s depression, even if he never goes explicitly into detail about it.
All in all, this album is certainly rough around the edges – so rough that listening to it the first time practically gave me splinters. But this itself helps to portray Earl’s mental state. Whilst I still love a song with a catchy hook and a nice groove, this is the type of the album that doesn’t benefit from conventional songs. An album simply need to be a body of work, and how that body of work sounds on the whole is what matters.
Saturday, 1 December 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 01/12/2018: Gesaffelstein, DUCKWRTH, Arctic Monkeys and more...
The Arctic Monkeys are now making lounge music and I think I'm okay with that...
‘Reset’ – Gesaffelstein
The dark lord of EDM has returned after several years lurking in the shadows. His latest track is an eerie mid-tempo trap number with flourishes of detuned synth and jazzy horns. The music video features a bunch of rapper caricatures (one is definitely supposed to be a parody of Tekashi69) all trying to compete to lay down the best verse (which looks funny given it’s an instrumental). At the end we then see, Gesaffelstein standing there looking out of place, which I guess is a metaphor for how he feels right now in the music industry surrounded by all these wacky attention-seeking rappers. Is he suggesting the music industry needs to reset itself?
‘Soprano’ – DUCKWRTH
Gospel? Am I listening to the right artist here? *Beat switches at 0:48 and I am blasted off my chair by the bass* Ah, that’s more like it! Yet again the Californian rapper releases another banger. It hasn’t got the political lyrics of ‘Fall Back’ but given the energy of the track, I don’t think that matters. The fact that he dedicates that section at the beginning to gospel singing also just goes to show how diverse this man’s talents are.
‘Feel Ya’ – Ehiorobo & Tomggg
This is my first exposure to Tomggg and I’m liking his cutesy and bubbly style of production. It matches Ehiorobo’s quirky soulful voice (check out my interview with Ehiorobo here). There’s a lot of dark and moody music out there at the moment and sometimes it’s nice to hear something sweet and bouncy.
‘Anyways’ – Arctic Monkeys
The Arctic Monkeys have been continuously slowing down since AM and now they’re literally making lounge music. Ordinarily I don’t think this would be my cup of tea, but Alex Turner’s poetic rambling is kind of hypnotic to listen to. My favourite line: ‘nosebleeds from epiphanies I took full in the face’. By the way, what’s this band’s fascination with vacuum cleaners?
‘Chemical Spirit Connection’ – Andrew Goldring
This track is about a ‘strange encounter one night at the neighbourhood dive bar’. The fuzzy guitars and laid back vocals do a good job of capturing the drunken haze of the moment and I’m loving the whimsical lyrics.
‘Gunner’ – Insaine Caine
His goofy delivery makes him sound like he’s trying to voice a cartoon character and the beat sounds like something from the ‘00s. But hey, what was I honestly expecting with a thumbnail like that?