An Experimental Album Collective: Oscar Lang, Big Thief, and More

I decided to do an experimental four album collective review and recommendation this week. These four albums from Oscar Lang, Big Thief, Meth Wax, and Keane are ones I’ve just recently been getting into, and I’ve been loving all of the varying genres and moods that come along with each one.

Oscar Lang’s release gives off a more indie and thrilling vibe, while Big Thief is more eerie, warm, and noisy. Meth wax is explosive, wild and punchy whereas Keane emits a softer, more nostalgic mood. Overall, these four LP’s have something to offer everyone, no matter the music preference or taste. All four are dynamic, emotional, and thrilling experiences. These are definitely some of my go-to’s when picking from my record collection.

1. Oscar Lang – bops etc. 

A friend recently recommended this album and it perfectly fits the mood of waiting for school break and reminiscing on summer. It was released in June of this year and recently on the Dirty Hit record label. Being 6 songs, it is more of an EP, but the mood and feeling is summed up overall in these few tunes. I especially like the light mood around all of the tracks and how airy the record feels and sounds. “French Girl” definitely stood out to me, the melody is strong yet up and down. It also features Johnny Utah, who is a great indie-go to and is known for his song “Honeypie.” The synth is very arpeggiated and I like it in front with the guitar, bass, and drums being more focused towards the back. “Change,” being more guitar focused, is a cute, nostalgic tune with catchy lyrics; the walking bass line gives the slower guitar chords a boppy groove. The last track, “Pull Me Up,” is a ballad type song over hearty synth and slower drum beats. This is a great one for indie and alternative listeners.

2. Big Thief – Masterpiece

Every melody on this line surprises me and leaves me grabbing for more. Adrianne Lenker’s vocals stand out against the music yet complement it so perfectly at the same time. Her voice is elegant and soft yet so strong, being fitting for the genres Big Thief fronts. The guitar riffs beautifully go against the vocals and melodies of each song. The chords are surprising which is very refreshing when listening to Masterpiece as I feel as if I’m experiencing something new every time I listen. Every song on this album gives off ease and confidence, yet angst through the dynamics, shifts, and balance between the full band at times and the guitar and vocals at others.

The whole album feels like a long, heartwarming, reassuring journey through the depth of lyrics and maturity of sound over the 12 tracks. Two songs that particularly stand out are “Little Arrow” and “Velvet Ring.” “Little Arrow” sounds like it is played over an old radio or cassette machine; a more lo-fi track with just guitar and vocals. “Velvet Ring” is one of the only acoustic songs, the guitar picking style and walkdown chord choice vary to the rest of the album but nonetheless, fit it in a perfect way. The melody choice and lyrics are immensely unique here, and go so well with the background noises that it almost sounds eerie. Overall, I would rate this album a 10/10 and definitely recommend it to anyone who likes alternative and experimental music.

3. Meth Wax – Meth Wax

The lower quality of this album gives it a lot of character and makes all the difference in the energy that the album gives off to the listener. This lo-fi garage group gives off a slower, grunge vibe but there are also a few more upbeat, surfy tracks that stand out. Instrumentally, the production is the perfect pop-punk and garage tone and release. The guitar has a deep gutty and punchy feel to it and the drums are washy, muted, and perfectly balanced between surfy breaks and beatdowns and head banging fills. The vocals and lyrics are especially unique, being fronted and catchy. Released in 2016, this independent release is an easy listen and great for driving, hanging out, or just as background music. This release is an engaging and impressive listening experience, it mixes non-serious topics with deeper subjects together. I recommend to any Ty Segall fans or any lofi, garage, or punk lovers. 

4. Keane – Under The Iron Sea

One of my best friends recently showed me this album and I fell in love with it the second I started listening. This is a sentimental and mesmerizing album. Under the Iron Sea is my go-to rainy day album and it is a great walking and driving album as well. This release, being an older album from around 2006, captures the listener and takes them on a journey of finding themselves and being in the world. The lyrical content is hooking and powerfully written, alongside the string instrumentals, almost unnoticeable harmonies, and fronted piano lines and chords. It feels like a winter cold fairy tale, and a sense of warmth coming from it, almost like a fever dream. My favorite track is definitely “A Bad Dream” as it’s almost nostalgic and makes me feel like I’m in a different time period. Dominic Scott’s vocal range is always surprising and leaves the listener not knowing what is coming next. Keane’s music feels somber yet refreshing, and I’m always in the mood for it.

These four albums are there for any mood and time, and have become some of my favorite records over this past fall season. Hopefully, this becomes a new favorite record for someone or a song that makes someones day. Have a great winter break, stay warm, and keep updated for more tunes to come!

Written by: Jesse Miller

Peep This Joint: Dave East – Survival Album Review

The buzz around Harlem rapper Dave East is larger than ever with the release of his debut album, Survival executively produced by the legend Nas himself. 

The album recently dropped on November 8th and features a star-studded cast of guest appearances such as Nas, Rick Ross, Teyana Taylor and Ty Dolla Sign. With a total of 20 songs that run for a little over an hour, it’s clear to see that East came prepared to tell his story to the masses.

He holds respect in the rap game as he has released numerous mixtapes and is adept at collaborating with both veteran guests such as Nas and Cam’ron as well as younger emcees like Gunna and A-Boogie. Over time he refined his signature gritty New York sound and it reflects with how polished Survival sounds. Since the release of his first mixtape in 2010, his debut album clearly portrays a seasoned rapper comfortable in his element as he gives listeners a glimpse into different parts of his life. 

A standout track from the album is the song, “On My Way 2 School” where he invites listeners to be in his shoes as he retells harsh experiences walking to school. East vividly paints how violent and dangerous the journey was just to go to school in a rough neighborhood: 

“On my way to school (On my way) / 

Nike’s and Adidas on my way to school (Either or) / 

You ever seen a homicide on your way to school? (Boom!) / 

You never seen your homie Mama cry on your way to school (Never).” 

Another standout song is “Mama I Made It” which is a love letter to the woman who raised him. The track exudes a classic ‘90s feel as East boasts his admiration for his mother. Reminiscing on the past when his mom slapped him when he “used to try to cuss” to brighter days today where “she aint never gotta worry ’bout no rent,” it’s clear to see the love. Having a song dedicated to your mother on an album is always a respectable and welcomed move and Dave East clearly outdid himself on this one.

The Harlem rapper revealed in an interview with legendary west coast radio host Big Boy that he listened to all of his favorite rappers’ first albums to prepare his mindset for his own.

“I went and played 50’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Snoop’s Doggystyle, Nas and Illmatic,” East said. “I played everybody’s first album just to see what their energy was at. Like ‘What time was you on when you knew this was your debut to the world?’.”

Overall the decision proved to be a wise move as his debut album is a shining example of his lyrical gift and vivid storytelling. This album is definitely one of the most solid albums released so far this year and is a must-listen. 

Go peep this joint right now!

Rating: 9/10

Written by: Johann Oribello

Beneath The Surface: Rex Orange County – Pony

Pony, Rex Orange County’s 33-minute long sophomore album, attempts to condense the breadth of a pop album into a small, neat, tidily wrapped package.

The record kicks off with “10/10,” an upbeat tune that sees Rex reminiscing about failed friendships and expresses a desire for self-improvement. With concise lyricism, a triumphant chord progression, and creative synth work, this song is certainly a contender for the highest point of the record. The lyrics are honest, which is refreshing in the pop music industry known for its decreasing lyrical quality.

Second in the lineup is waltz-ballad, “Always.” This song is absolutely drenched in nostalgia as Rex riffs over a funky horn-line, singing about the difficulties one might face in a romantic relationship, or in a quest to improve oneself. 

Face To Face” is a rather uninteresting entry in the Pony’s tracklist. Although Rex describes the track as being about “feeling trapped in an undesirable situation,” and being away from home, the song only seems to skim the surface of what those themes could have entailed. Additionally, the instrumentation of the track lacks inspiration, sounding rushed and unemotional.

“Never Had The Balls” is a fairly strong point, making a good showing with its almost 80s-esque compositional style and harmonics. It’s a sweet, catchy song about a reluctance to admit an unrequited love. It’s a story that we’ve all heard many times before, but Rex succeeds in finding a creative renewal of the narrative, keeping listeners on the edge of their seats. 

Pluto Projector” is quite possibly the emotional peak of this record’s tracklist. The song begins like many of Rex’s other tunes with an understated instrumental and simple vocal line. The track slowly builds layers upon itself, concluding in a euphoric display of the singer’s true compositional ability. The horns, strings, and pianos all complement each other nearly perfectly, and the build of emotion throughout the song creates a satisfying rise and fall.

This song then transitions into “Every Way,” which acts as a sort of interlude. Although it bears a heavy resemblance to “Always,” it is intimate and makes the listener feel as if they could be listening to a friend singing in their bedroom.

It’s Not The Same Anymore” is the album’s conclusion. Reflecting on the loss of youth, Rex Orange County sings of how his “face has changed” and “lost its joy.” This song does a wonderful job of synthesizing the lyrical themes of the entire record and providing a satisfying end to a moderately impressive pop record that will likely inspire some aspiring musicians for some time to come.

Although Pony drags at certain points (mainly during “Stressed Out” and “Laser Lights”), there are enough shining moments to prevent the project from taking too much of a hit from these shortcomings. In his moments of true sincerity, which are unfortunately scarce, Rex did some fairly good work on this project.

Rating: 6.5/10

Credit: pitchfork.com

Pony, Rex Orange County’s 33-minute long sophomore album, attempts to condense the breadth of a pop album into a small, neat, tidily wrapped package.

Peep This Joint: Saba – Care for Me Album Review

Filled with an overwhelming sense of grief and emptiness, Chicago rapper Saba unveils the candid experience of losing a best friend over a senseless murder in his sophomore effort, Care for Me.

The album released last year on April 5 and highlights Saba’s emotions over the death of his cousin, Walter Long Jr.

In a time where mental health awareness is higher than it’s ever been historically, Care for Me provides a refreshing and therapeutic musical experience for those who’ve been through similar grief. 

The project begins with Saba singing, “I’m so alone” on the two-part track “BUSY/SIRENS” featuring R&B singer, theMIND. Lamenting over the loneliness of losing his right-hand man, the rawness of the track is palpable as Saba raps, “Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat / I’m tryna cope, but it’s a part of me gone / In this packed room I’m alone.” 

Saba’s personal grief intimately captures and processes the darker side of mental health issues that individuals worldwide experience and can relate to. Tracks such as “BROKEN GIRLS,” “GREY,” and “LOGOUT” featuring Chance the Rapper explore notions of heartbreak, loneliness, and insecurities over social media.

Tracklist cover from: Genius

Despite these overarching somber themes, Saba skillfully structures and balances the tracklist with moments of light-hearted nostalgia. One track that exemplifies this is the track “SMILE” which recounts Saba’s childhood experience living with his grandmother. In it he expresses his desire to escape the confines of Chicago that remind him of his gloomier days, “All that I am is my family these days / Moment of madness I can’t seem to evade,” and “Our parents’ parents are from the South / And if I make a million dollars / I’ll vacation in the South.” Songs such as these help even out bleak nature of the album.

The most compelling record overall though is the penultimate track, “PROM/KING” which runs a lengthy seven-and-a-half minutes long. Despite the long runtime, the album reaches a climax with Saba at his most intimate and rawest form as he goes from recounting the details of his prom night where he first met Walter to describing his last interactions with him before receiving the news of his untimely death. 

Saba opens up the first part of the song harkening back to his earlier days as a young high school student rapping, “This remind me of before we had insomnia / Sleepin’ peacefully, never needed a pile of drugs.” Over piano keys and minimal drums, Saba flows effortlessly as he gives listeners the rundown on what happened during prom night. The production then switches as Saba turns the subject matter towards reminiscing on Walter’s final days. In the final bars of the song, Saba paints a vivid picture that reveals how he found out the news of his cousin’s death:

“Ten minutes into the session, I got a call from a number/ 

That I don’t got saved, but I answer anyways/

She says, ‘Hello, Malik, have you or Squeak/ 

Talked to my son today? He was just on the train’/

We got in the car but we didn’t know where to drive to

Fuck it, wherever you are my n–a, we’ll come and find you…”

As Saba spits the final verse, the drums on the beat speed up in an anxiety-inducing pace to convey the same anxiety Saba felt in his chest as Walter’s mother reveals to him that Walter is missing. 

Picture taken from: Genius

Overall, I consider this album to be a perfect 10/10 in my books. Through this album, Saba was able to put words into the same feelings and emotions of depression and anxiety that I’ve been struggling to deal with. In doing so, the Chicago rapper was able to produce a body of work that resonates not only with me, but countless other individuals going through times of grief and depression. If you’ve asked what my top rap album of 2018 was, Care for Me takes the spot.

For the love of hip-hop, please peep this joint if you haven’t already!

Rating: 10/10

Written by: Johann Oribello