New Music Quickies – “Crying In The Club” Camila Cabello

 

This is my introduction to Cabello’s work, and it’s abundantly obvious that she is very talented singer, capable of conveying complex emotion that can be amplified and minimized when appropriately needed. In just one song, you can very clearly tell her potential as a vocal performer. One of my favorite oddball-pop stars, Sia, is supposedly credited as the writer, and that is apparent in the song’s actual competent progression and structure.

The fantastic violin introduction is very inviting, and Cabello’s vocal talent is very quickly displayed, but the way she is singing is extremely overplayed by this point in popular music. Whatever identity she has, unfortunately, overshadowed by the ever prevalence of singers who sing in the exact same cadence and slang-y style that she does. Obviously fans more familiar with her early work will be able to look past this, most likely, but I cannot at the moment.
The “I have questions” line only gets more annoying the more it’s said, ruining what I enjoyed about the introduction.

The sample that kicks in around the 2 minute mark just instantly takes me away from any attention I was giving the song, and takes me out to thinking about either Genie in a Bottle or that new Ed Sheeran song that just irritates me. Not a terrible choice, but feels really lazy, and unimpressive. The successful buildup of the beginning of the song just leads us to an underwhelming and bare xylophone-sounding section where we are supposed to feel like “ALL MY PROBLEMS ARE GONE NOW THAT I’M IN THE CLUB, I CAN’T CRY HERE, JUST PARTY, I’M IN DENIAL, ISN’T THAT SHIT DEEP?”. I would just be expecting something heavier, bass-ier, or maybe faster, instrumentally, at this section, to better construct the illusion of trying to get lost in a club after a break-up.

I can appreciate that the song has a theme, but less than half-way through it fails to really match-up musically to that theme’s progression in the track as well as it could have.

Not a bad song by any stretch of the imagination, will likely be loved her fans, just disappointing, underwhelming, and kinda instrumentally unoriginal considering the clear level of talent involved in it’s construction.

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New Music Quickies – “Swish, Swish” Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj

Nicky sounds fine, as usual. Nothing particularly interesting or focused lyrics-wise (oh my a Biggie reference, woo…) Katy is not remotely a bad singer, and the few moments on here where she’s singing rap-style lyrics – “like a coupon – expired” aren’t awful… but that one line previously mentioned is about the ONLY memorable thing in the song… The rest is literally gone out of your mind almost instantly. While the theme of the song isn’t unthinkable for some dance-y pop song, it just doesn’t seem developed beyond surface level.

Beat is good, but that’s kind of like being impressed with a kid putting their name on their homework; it’s a bare minimum requirement. Dance to it when it comes on, but you’ll forget it as soon as it’s over, and probably enjoy the next song much more.

…And the Taylor Swift drama/conspiracy is face-palm worthy, at best. Childish, uninteresting, and even potentially forced.

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Experiencing: Kendrick Lamar’s – “Damn”

 

There are “albums” that are collections of songs (glorified mix-tapes), and then there are albums that construct context and either literal or thematic cohesion from track to track; providing truly a genuine conceptual experience. Kendrick Lamar has managed to craft yet another experience with “Damn”, and while this album is not as blatantly ambitious or diversionary from contemporary hip-hop norms as certain moments on “To Pimp a Butterfly”, it does provide both solid music, and intellectual/emotional depth.

First, I will clarify my opening statement: if you expect this to be another “Good Kid Maad City”, you’ll not find nearly as clear of a straightforward narrative here on “Damn” (though plenty of storytelling, both literal and metaphorical, fills the album – particularly on “XXX”). The themes of representation and conflict with media and society take the forefront on this album, featuring a particularly bleak and un-amused Kendrick Lamar. While I have no doubt that after enough spins, listeners (including myself) will be able to craft a myriad of interpretations, from those of a narrative nature to those of thematically and meaning, from the album, I believe that the strongest appeal of “Damn” is the fact that it can be so musically flexible. Songs on the album can stand on their own as beautifully constructed, detailed, reasonably diverse, from just a purely musical standpoint, whilst also providing more than a hearty serving of lyrical and thematic discourse for the deep analytic folks to really sink their teeth in. This is an album that you will have plenty of reasons to want to replay from start to finish, likely many many times.

“Damn” feels incredibly concise, almost eerily so. I found myself surprised that after what only ‘felt’ like a few minutes had passed, that I already managed to make it to track 9 of 14, “LUST”. I still find it hard to believe by the end of album that 54 minutes had truly passed, and its a unique experience I haven’t had with any other album – not even smaller albums that would clock in around the 20 or 30 minute marks. Kendrick Lamar rarely wastes your time, nor let musical ideas drag on far past their usefulness; an issue Kendrick has rarely had in the past, but stands out in particular on this album. “FEAR” may stay past it welcome for some, but I was thoroughly entertained, at least.

After my first listening I honestly could only find maybe 2 or 3 tracks I didn’t find captivating or at least enjoyable. Most tracks I wanted to go back to and re-play to really comprehend what I had heard, making my first pure play-through difficult to do.

As for any weak spots on this album, I would say the first half of “GOD” was a bit boring, if only because the beat and vocal performance of Kendrick on this track felt rather generic. Luckily the song becomes slightly more interesting on the latter half. “YAH” feels a bit too lethargic and chill after following a track after “Damn” but does maintain the overall introspective and critical theme of the album, just with a weak chorus. “LOYALTY” is an excellent track during it’s verses, but the chorus, once again, is kinda annoying to me. I’m not too surprised by this, however, as I’m not much a chorus or hook fan to begin with – and it’s easily been my least favorite aspect of Kendrick’s music since Section 80 (Ironically, the one album where I don’t have a problem with really any his chorus based songs).

There are only a few real bangers on “Damn”, with “DNA” being easily the heaviest and hardest song Kendrick has done since Backseat Freestyle. “DNA” is an incredible second track, with a merciless lyrical and instrumental assault that builds up to an incredible, yet sudden, ending. “Humble” is an upbeat, self-aware braggadocios venture, and likely a standout track, though I much prefer “DNA”.

This album is also full of songs that are complex, merging either ferocious and relentless lyrics with more subtle and lurking instrumentals, like “ELEMENT” and “FEEL” for example. From “LUST” to “DUCKWORTH” you have a captivating series of unique and interesting tracks, ending the album. “LOVE” is a near perfect atmospheric and emotional track that flows naturally into “XXX”, which is a unique and haunting song which slips into captivating intensity just enticing you for future replays.

I will say, this is an excellent album worthy of at least somewhere between a 8-9 out of 10, no question. I will say, it lacks some solid identity that previous projects “Section 80”, “Good Kid”, and “To Pimp” all had in spades, and were inherently obvious. “Damn” is quite a bit more complex, a bit more unwilling to take your hand and walk you through it’s purpose, and still an incredible album. At this point, it’s incredible that Kendrick can continue to produce consistently high-quality albums. Purely from a musical perspective, this album has some of the most efficient and enjoyable songs in Kendrick’s career – and that’s saying a lot considering his catalog.

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