Exploring Discographies – Prince – For You (1978)

In “Exploring Discographies” we (albeit, slowly) go through the discographies of various artists and analyze the musical evolution of their music and identity throughout the years. The goal is to really understand the story of each artist, and give my opinion on the nature and potential appeal of the music.

1978 Prince – For You

An often overlooked masterpiece in funk, soul, and even early Rock Crossover sound that Prince would really take in full stride by the next 2 albums. Every time I come back to “For You”, I find myself excited to re-hear pretty much every song on the album. The songs are incredibly concise, quirky, emotional, and I usually can’t help but want to dance (and I typically hate dancing) to almost all of them. Prince’s vocals alone gives the music it’s distinct sound (a particularly distinct falsetto dominates, but is not the ONLY style prince uses) – all the while the musical production feels incredibly detailed, being pleasantly soaking in a variety of both soft and warm synths, funk and normal guitar, and bass. Prince, supposedly, performed most – if not all – the instrumentation on this album, and it only makes the experience that much more interesting and satisfying.

This album works incredibly well as a “Day 1” in the musical journey of Prince, as it very telling of the musical influences and overall style that he would explore later. The funk sound is quite overwhelming on this album (as it is, to some degree, in all his music) – and as someone who is really infatuated with that sound, this album manages to be both catchy, and incredibly unique. Prince’s little touches in the production and instrumentation really keep his music distinguishable from other funk acts during, before, and after the time of this album. There is detail, subtlety, and the few instances where guitar solos pop up, like in “My Love Is Forever” and “For You”, keep you yearning for more.

One aspect of Prince’s early music (and most music at that time, anyway, due to the nature of vinyl) is that his projects are short – and every song is very much unique, and memorable. This allows the listener to really get absorbed in the atmosphere that prince creates, and not feel tired or bored quickly; rather, I almost always want to listen through a second or third time – especially to my favorites.

Prince gives you plenty of dancey, almost disco-y tracks like the latter half of “Soft and Wet”, “Just As Long As We Are Together”, and  “My Love Is Forever”. He brings you soft balads, like “Crazy You”, “
So Blue” and “Baby” (all of which are actually amazing, to my surprise) and then at the very end of the album, he then goes Guitar God and drops “I’m Yours”, which is in my own personal top 10 favorite songs. Prince seems to realize that he’s onto something here – combining the guitar ferocity of almost hair-metal rock music, yet still making an overall funk song. Prince will later explore the reversal of this, making rock music that has a funk influence; something we will see in full force as soon as the very next album after this.

This album isn’t for everyone – while it was both ahead of it’s time in a few little ways, it is a Funky-slightly disco, album from 1978, so most kids nowadays (unless they are cool, and liked Gambino’s newest project, and are into the neo-soul movement) are going to potentially find the music rather lacking in a punch… Though I would personally say this album holds up incredibly well, when you give it a serious chance and compare it to other music today. There is plenty of depth yet fullness to he music, that makes this album perfect for plenty of occasions and settings. I can keep coming back and rediscovering something new about the music I didn’t notice before. New listeners may have trouble adjusting to the older style sounds from that period, but give it a few rotations – and you might just start to understand what I’m talking about.

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Everything Everything – A Fever Dream

In June of 2015 we were treated to one of the more interesting pop albums of that year – Everything Everything’s Get to Heaven. The album featured an assortment of catchy, yet uniquely experimental/quirky up-beat songs, occasionally equipped with a undertone of melancholy or fear (“No Reptiles”). While the album was mostly an energetic trip into rein-visioned 80’s new wave meets fast-tempo rhyming, there was always a slight atmosphere of danger and madness that made the band feel unpredictable – particularly on the first listen. I can recall being repeatedly surprised by each new track, and being rather engrossed with every song’s unique experience. It’s rare for an entire album to keep my attention and receive such repeated rotation as Get to Heaven did.

The band’s latest album Fever Dream doesn’t stray too far from the musical tone of Get to Heaven, though it seems it attempts to be more subdued and subtle then the latter, and more instrumentally progressive and varied. I can recall listening to songs on Get to Heaven, like “No Reptiles” where the stripped down/basic instrumentation was contrasted with an assault of lyrical bullets being fired by lead vocalist Jonathan Higgs, and being completely encapsulated by the experience. Unfortunately I can’t say I felt that way at all on Fever Dream, nor was I particularly enthusiastic about any of the more straight-forward dance/pop songs (not that there were too many of them this time around).

One thing Fever Dream does do is feature song structure that seems to meander and get lost like on  “Good Shot Good Soldier”, for example. The song starts out okay, with a catchy and stripped down beat, but quickly becomes rather boring and stagnant – as Jonathan constantly repeats his lines, which was interesting and refreshing to hear the first time around on Get to Heaven, which by this point in the album had already begun to feel tired. “Put Me Together” attempted to be a ballad of some sort, but the unrelenting high-hats, which often compliment Everything Everything’s music, in this case distracts from whatever atmosphere/emotion that this song was trying to convey; resulting in a boring mess of a song that, at least, ends a tad bit stronger than it begins.

At times Everything Everything stray into more straightforward rock territory (reminiscent of a more electronic Arctic Monkeys ala their last album), like on “Run the Numbers” and “White Whale”, but it unfortunately ends up being nothing memorable. These songs are decent, and instrumentally solid, but they don’t stick around in memory (“White Whale” slightly more so than “Run the Numbers” nor does anything (besides the focus on guitar) to warrant much recognition.

The slightly more subdued approach of Fever Dream does not pay off much, as the album instrumentation, while impressive and enjoyable, is not particularly memorable or immediately striking upon listening. I can still return to Get to Heaven and immediately be entranced in more than half of the album, jumping in at any point – this is not, however, the case for Fever Dream, as every song on here feels like an attempt to reach musical and emotional depth, without being particularly too interesting while doing it.  The best part of the title track, “Fever Dream”, ends up sounding like a catchy “Plastic Beach” era Gorillaz song meets Cut Copy.  Unfortunately, what I liked about Everything Everything has nothing to do with either of those bands, so it’s immensely unfortunate.

I thought the  first half of the song song “Ivory Tower” could have been taken off of Get to Heaven, as it just sounds like a bizarre amalgamation of a few songs from the previous album, which may just be their fans’ fancy, but it’s mostly disappointing to me. The payoff at the end of the track makes up for it though, as I did find myself repeat listening to the solo and enjoying it.

Overall, this is far from a bad album, but considering how impressive Get to Heaven was, it’s difficult to give compliments to this album – knowing how much better in nearly every way the previous album was. I give considerable credit to the band for attempting to expand and vary their sound on this album, going far more progressive and incorporating some impressive guitar solos (“Ivory Tower”), but I am also considerable dissapointed in Fever Dream being essentially a bland and forgettable version of Get to Heaven,with half of the energy.

 

6.75/10

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New Music Quickies – “Big Fish” Vince Staples

I’ve been a long-time fan of Vince Staples, even as far back as one can likely look for his material, such as Earl’s self-titled project. Vince has an indistinguishable voice, blunt flow, and confusing personal beliefs (watch any of his incredibly popular and respected interviews – he’s a very self-aware, honest, insightful, and intellectual individual) and philosophy that, to my surprise, often contradict with the songs that he constructs.

I will say that his last few projects were underwhelming, and did not invite many re-listens from me, if any. I couldn’t really say why – just, for some reason, despite me loving all the essential ingredients that Vince Staples provides, I just haven’t fully enjoyed an actual whole project of his since his Stolen Youth mix-tape, which I enjoyed thoroughly – and still do.

“Big Fish” continues to display Vince’s impeccable and consistent flow, but also is burdened by an incredibly boring video and chorus. This song feels incredibly boring, ESPECIALLY THE CHORUS – yeah, you’re making money, and spent all night counting your money, great… and? Basically, another song about “the old days were bad, and now they are not, and here’s some things that were bad back then”. Vince’s lyricism definitely improves in the second half of the song, and is of course impressive, but it just feels even MORE SO that he couldn’t give a shit about how good his lines are – he sounds as disinterested in the fact that he’s rhyming about successful now, as I do listening to it! How?

I’ve also been done with these unoriginal and repetitive DJ Mustard wanna-be “TOTALLY NOT RACK CITY BEAT” beats. So many people in hip-hop been making derivatives of goddamn bare-boned and soul-less “Rack City” beat, and HERE IT IS ONCE AGAIN.

If you like “Rack City” by Tyga, you’ll be happy a far more competent rapper is rapping over a remix of that beat on this song.

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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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