Daily Media Consumption: Christina Aguilera, Graveyard, and Nas.
Welcome to Media Obsessed, and our Daily Media Consumption article. Every day, I listen to 3 albums across 3 different genres (Pop, Hip-Hop, and Metal/Rock), and give my honest reviews on the music entailed. Please note, other genres will not be ignored, as I will review any and everything that seems interesting or has a following.
I look at each album individually, and I have a taste/appreciation for music that spans virtually all genres of music. I’m not super-fused on lyrics, outside of hip-hop, but I care mostly about memorability/creativity, tone, theme, instrumentation, and overall execution of the album’s potential goal(s).
I will address times where my own personal taste might interfere with objective statements about an album, and I try to give solid evidence to my arguments whenever possible.
Christina Aguilera – Liberation
Christina returns for the first time in over 6 years, and her latest effort is half-filled with attempts to incorporate popular hip-hop and pop instrumentation conventions that have come and gone during the years up until it’s release date this year.
Album opens with a haunting and ominous piano playing and violins, coupled with strange baby sounds and ambiguous words. This interlude is then followed up by a rather beautiful and intriguing 26 second track with “Searching For Maria”, which then leads into the song “Maria”. Throughout this album, particularly early on, we have a handful of small interludes that allude to different thematic concepts (vaguely) explored in the album. While a few feel rather forced or surface level, I can’t really complain about Christina is trying to do here -as she is at least trying to explore inspirational and relevant ideas to the people of the world, and hopefully actually herself, too.
As for Maria specifically, I absolutely enjoyed the inclusion of honest orchestral and instrument based sections of the production, at least during the intro. I found myself incredibly engaged, pleasantly surprised, and anticipating something rather beautiful. Unfortunately once that goddamn trap beat drops – it immediately feels predictable, not creative, and pitifully dated by a few years. It’s not just the fact it’s a trap beat (I actually am a fan of producers who can make really overpowering and hype trap instrumentation that is creative and memorable), rather it’s the fact it’s that it’s the most generic sounding trap-beat with almost furnishings whatsoever to make it standout on it’s own. What I thought was going to be a rather beautiful and engaging track turned into generic pop-garbage with an ultra-generic trap high-hat -filled beat. I swear to god I’ve heard the EXACT beat somewhere else, and likely multiple times… or at least that one specific transition drum fill that seems to play every 5 or 10 seconds on this song. Christina sounds, at least, passionate and full of energy – but the cheap and uninspired trap beat just can’t really support the emotional impact or real intent of the song. The song sounds interesting again right around the end.
Christina then brings things back to reality with “Sick Of Sittin”, hitting me completely off-guard with a swing that was definitely out of left-field, and I love it. This is a straight-up 70’s funk-rock and blusey inspired song, even recorded or mixed in such a way to sound muddled and distorted; which, in my opinion, should have been left out or just dialed down a bit. I enjoy certain contexts where bands or artists choose to do this purposefully muddled retro sound, and in this particular one, I think it kind of hinders how actually bad-ass and cool this song actually sounds – simply because it’s muddled. Christina is trying to make a appealing pop-song with funk rock and blues influence, and isn’t trying herself to be a 70’s revival band a la many modern Sludge or Doom metal/rock. She doesn’t need to try to be a revivalist, she really just needs to make her rock song be memorable, catchy, and instrumentally solid. If she can do that first, then she can go all kinds of other places (like she has occasionally in her music in the past).
After another interlude we are treated to “Fall In Line”. I’m rather conflicted about how I feel regarding the instrumentation on this song, as there are both elements to it that are undeniably powerful and smooth as hell, and elements that make the song feel kind of cheap. The obnoxious huge bass hits that sludge throughout this song don’t really achieve sonic-ally the effect that was probably intended – and likely could have been worked on longer in order to figure how to fine tune it to make it sound more appealing and appropriate. The rather lower-pitch-shifted “one, two, three thing” sounded dumb and like a cheap imitation of what we have heard hip-hop artists like Tyler Creator and so many others already do. It instantly pulls me out of the song and leaves me unimpressed.
After that, we have “Right Moves”, which actually has an okay instrumental that has a clear but more subtle and fun enough reggae/dub influence. Christina’s vocals work rather on here, and the features compliment quite well, easily being a high-point in the album. Keida and Shenseea are awesome on here, and almost make me forget about Christina, who, while doing a fantastic job of singing appropriately for this track, just gets completely out-shadowed by how well her guest rapper completely stole the show. Definitely one of the better tracks on the album.
Whereas Christina’s earlier delving into modern hip-hop felt incredibly lazy, we see that completely reversed on “Like I Do”. Once again, Christina herself sounds just fine on the song, pretty solid, honestly – but she just feels kind of out of place, and somehow just odd on this production. Still incredibly talented, no doubt, and still a solid track – but just like the previous track, her feature (Goldlink) kills the beat just enough better that it makes me wish I was listening to that person doing to whole song, as opposed to Christina herself. I think that feeling has more to do with the fact that Christina has been one of those artists creating the singing style that lead us the singing styles many women utilize in modern pop and hip-hop, so it’s a bit strange to hear a sort-of prototype or ancestor type singer on modern songs. That’s not to say Christina cannot adapt or evolve, either, which she clearly has done on this album, and on previous: it’s just a unshakable feeling I seem to keep having on this album. Also, hearing her say “Marvin gay and get it on” over and over again is annoying, and I absolutely love his music, for the recorded.
I was kind torn while listening to “Deserve”, even if Christina feels rather genuine and very inspired. The beat even progresses rather beautifully, and successfully compliments the theme and emotion of the song rather accurately, but I just don’t really like the overall sound and idea of the song. When I say that, I don’t mean the lyrical topic, but rather the whole instrumental idea; while executed well enough, I don’t like the plodding and kind of boring nature of the song, even during the few climax/chorus moments in the song. It’s okay, and might be a favorite for some.
On “Twice” we are treated to a minimalism piano and vocal driven ballad, that, while mostly showcasing Christina’s traditional singing ability, kind of bores me quickly. It’s a solid song for people only care about hearing Christina’s powerful voice over some pianos, and I certainly didn’t mind it.
Dear lord, “Accelerate” is just a messy track. While I absolutely love the overwhelming synths all over this track, including the rather weird 80’s synth, the beat is absolutely lacking in a powerful solid beat. I don’t know rather to acknowledge a rather old-school electronic/funk influence on this or what. When the beat finally drops, 2-chains delivers some kind of average 2-Chain verses, occasionally sounding rather interesting. Ty kind of sounds dumb on here, and Christina is rather struggling to sound appropriate on this kind of bizarre instrumentation. I really don’t have a clue as to what the vision of this song was, and how they decided they wanted it to sound like what it came out being, but I give some credit for being odd enough that it was memorable. I still think this song is not in an acceptable form to have been released though, especially in regards to Ty’s contributions.
Things get absolutely sexy and smooth on “Pipe”. There are moments, however, where I think the instrumentation just kind of drops into the world of being “purposefully muddled”, and it just becomes irritating and doesn’t sound good. STOP just being bass-y and muddled, please. When the the snare becomes audible and a few more elements are brought to the fore-front it demonstrates how efficient and effective the beat is here, and how fantastic of a job it does to compliment Christina. XDNA doesn’t really stick around long enough to provide any indication of his performance really being all that good or bad… which, in itself, is just kind of a bad thing.
The return of the muddled sound in exchange for interesting and actually meaningful and tactful minimalist instrumentation returns in “Masochist”. There is certainly passion and emotion coming from Christina here, but the instrumentation just happens to be going on in a 10-food mud puddle in the room next-door to Christina, which makes me feel like it’s more annoying then it is achieving any complimentary tonal consistency to what Christina is singing about. You don’t need to do this to bring Christina’s singing to the forefront. You really don’t. Stop.
I kind of dig “Unless It’s With You”, which manages to nail the ballad sound, having somewhat powerful but still minimalist instrumentation; with subtle guitar notes weaving in and out of the track at various points, providing an additional beautiful touch to the song. This is certainly a powerful ballad, much more so than “Twice”, which sounds amateurish in comparison.
Average: This album has some seriously fatal flaws in it’s attempts to emulate some of the popular sounds and styles of pop-music in the last few years. Christina seems to occasionally match the style of some of solid songs she explores with, with similar songs that feels messy or simply fail to be memorable or interesting. Christina is still a fantastic singer with strong versatility, and she is absolutely still an un-tapped talent in even this day and age. What is frustrating is that despite having all these years to work on the album, she could only seem to get solid musical productions about maybe half of the album? If your experiments don’t sound good, just don’t use them… don’t just have a 2-chains feature to have it, or a Ty Dollar $, just to have it.
Graveyard – It Ain’t Over Yet
When I first put on this album, I thought I was listening to Brian Johnson from AC/DC, though that clearly isn’t the case. Graveyard is a hard rock/blues rock band that has been around for a little over a decade, and this is their 5th full-length album.
Graveyard genuinely sounds like they were recorded in the 1970’s, without it feeling inappropriate or distracting, and helping construct the image of these guys being a modern extension of a musical time-period extended indefinitely. While instrumentally they don’t resemble AC/DC, they are undeniably 70’s blues rock with prominent psychedelic influences.
Starting with “It Ain’t Over For Ya”, we get things started with a bang, with powerful raspy-but-audible vocals, solid guitar and drumming performances that transition and change often enough to give the song some shape and depth, all while maintaining a persistent song groove. Overall, just a pretty decent start.
On “Cold Love” we really get a more bluesy and psychedelic influence, and a rather striking change in vocals to being lower-pitch, yet still rather raspy and appropriate for the music. This song kind of plods along, and while it gives the vocals some further attention, and then it hits the 2 and-a-half minute mark, and starts to channel some serious Black Sabbath heaviness and overall vibe. The song is okay, but I found it a little bit boring, and not really going all the way with what’s trying to do, and missing a few opportunities to really make this a more creative and memorable track. Still, it’s a decent enough song.
Next we have “See The Day”, which theoretically I should enjoy greatly, but I have some issues with. The vocals are kind of shaky, Darron Malakian-esq but a bit deeper pitch. There is certainly emotion coming from this song, particularly when the 70’s western style guitars start kicking in after the minute and-a-half mark. Somewhat impressive and impressive, though I’ve seen some post-metal/rock bands, or other kinds of bands make slightly more meaningful and memorable ballads of this nature.
We get a more clear western or southern blues feel on “Please Don’t”. Sounding somewhere between a grunge band and a 70’s rock/blues sound, which probably describes a solid majority of the new-age stoner-rock revival. This song is competent enough, and a decent enough song, in the end. The little synth organs a la 60’s psychedelic music that peered into the mix for a second at one point were a cute little touch. I think it’s okay.
I almost feel like there’s a prominent CCR influence on “The Fox”, not just with the vocals that seem remotely in the same style as them (though audibly quite different, to be sure). They remind me of a more hard-rock version of CCR mixed with The Doors, at this point. This is probably my favorite track on the album, being memorable, concise, and just really engaging.
I think “Walk On” is pretty boring, however, and it only gets better by the time the 2 minute mark passes and beat evolves to more suitable state. The song becomes somewhat more enjoyable, even including a section where everything is silent, and a powerful ominous and brooding feeling fills the audio-scape, as gradually building distorted guitars seem to surround and grip the listener. By the point of the song previously described, the song had grown on me, though the beginning still bores, despite it being sensible considering the song structure.
On “Del Manic” we get a somewhat subdued ballad that builds up to somewhat angry climax. I wasn’t really drawn into this song. Felt repetitive and overall just kind of boring throughout.
On that same dime, despite the guitar sound being pretty solid on “Bird Of Paradise”, it is just as boring as “Del Manic”, and kind just plods on and on without doing much too interesting.
The energy gets kicked up a notch on “A Sign Of Peace”, which is a nice change of pace by this point in the album. The overall song structure is a bit more memorable and engaging, so I was actually grooving with the entire song pretty easily. This is certainly one of the stand-out tracks on the album.
The strange blend of western/blues/psychedelic rock on “Low” continues to solidify that Doors meets CCR conclusion. I really enjoy the build-up, and that catchy and that incredible almost dancey beat that chugs along like I’m watching a 1940’s cartoon with some silly over-animated old-school car rolling down the street. Song structure and transitions are very solid here. This one is easily my favorite track from the album, and makes me wish more songs were full of this kind of energy, creativity, and ability to engage listeners.
Good: A few songs on here were just completely boring and generic, and that may be enough for some people, but it’s absolutely not enough for me. The few songs that stood out and that I liked were more-so on Excellent level quality, but the mediocre tracks wound up leveling the playing field. Love when the actual character and feel of the band comes through on the stand-out tracks that I enjoyed, and
Nas – Nasir
One of several albums being produced by the insane Kanye West, and the eleventh of one of the most iconic, referenced, influential, and talented rappers: Nas. This is, as you would expect, a union of old-school hip-hop rhyme spitting matched with instrumental and sampling inconsistent and enigmatic madman that is Kanye West.
We start the album with a minimalistic beat sampling “The Hunt For Red October”, with Nas flowing hard, dropping all kinds of truth-drops and facts about varying topics, which makes repeated listens rewarding with sifting through the rhymes. “Not For Radio” makes a kind of hilarious choice by choosing one of the more comerical and radio-hit making individuals of the 90’s and 2000’s to do adlibs on the song: P-Diddy. I think he’s alright on here, and at least doesn’t make the song any worse… just a bit silly, when you think about it. The hook of “I think they scared of us” is kind of annoying, though, I’ll be honest.
Next, we have “Cops Shot The Kid” – which I immediately thought I would’ve loved because of the intro sample, followed by the appearance of the Slick Rick sample (one of my favorite artists), but then it ends up quickly being kind of annoying as I hear that sample over and over and over and over… I wasn’t able to focus on anything else, it was just so distracting. The idea behind this song is really interesting, though, with how Kanye constructed it, as well as the overall theme of the song. Kanye actually sounds more comprehensible and apropriate on this song then Nas does, which took me by surprised, since Kanye’s rhyming was mostly garbage on his “Ye” album.
Another interesting sample brings us into the next track “White Label”. The beat is, as you would expect, sample heavy, laying multiple samples at a time. The lack of snare or anything of that nature makes it harder to get comfortable to, and the sample with a high-pitch voice that plays once in a while ends up being extremely distracting and annoying. Nas’ verses should be the focus on here, Kanye, so give him a goddamn snare in there please so I’m not just distracted by how odd the concept of a song that sounds like is… and that doesn’t make it automatically good that it’s different, nor memorable… sometimes it just makes your song confusing and hard to listen to. Plenty of great ideas, and only one missing element.
On “Adam and Eve” Kanye answers my cries for help, giving Nas a solid old-school beat, with beautiful little samples, and standard Nas bars and flow over it. I like the hook on this song, actually, and I typically have little enjoyment when it comes to a hip-hop hook. Nas addresses various people, topics, and thoughts on here, with plenty of interesting lyrics to check out on repeated listens, again.
The instrumental on “Bonjour” is some kind of beautiful, deeply layered, and absolutely signature Kanye. Nas cracks some pretty hilarious lines on here, fun wordplay, and just overall kills it. Not much to really talk about, just listen to it if you’re a fan of hip-hop. I will say, I think it dragged on with the spoken/singing segment during the last 1/3 of the song… it’s less appealing and interesting than Nas’ rhyming.
I don’t know what to make of “Everything”… there’s a song structure that is rather effective in this song, though the lack of sounds, other than the vocals, are so subdued for the first portion of the song its hard to be sure of how I feel. The singing was clearly well done, but definitely sounded better and better as the song progressed. In fact, as the song continued, I found myself unable deny that the song is absolutely brilliant and beautiful; particularly when Nas kicks in and starts rhyming his verses.
Excellent: This is a concise, memorable, ruthless, thematically and lyrically interesting and bad-ass, album. This makes Ye’s album look like amateurish ramblings over random garbage. While I don’t see myself going back to this album constantly, there are my 2 or 3 songs that I loved, and will hang onto, but no songs on here are bad… which is wise of them to only include songs worth hearing. Close to being a classic, but not quite there, in my opinion. Within reaching distance, for sure.