New Music Roundup, Sept. 3rd – Sept. 9th

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Drake – Views

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Drake – Views

Released April 29th, 2016 on OVO Sound/Young Money Records

In Canada, we have this odd and lamentable tendency to eat our own.  I think it comes from the Scottish roots of the country.  We tend to see showboating or fame as putting on airs, or being pretentious.  For your average Scot farmer tilling his field somewhere around London, or for the average Irish fisherman off of the coast of Newfoundland, or, you know, an Albertan, something like the entertainment industry and it’s star-power fame-driven system would seem as alien as the surface of Mars.  It’s all right to play an instrument or put on a show, but to arrogantly stride across the country, let alone the globe, and declare yourself to be a star?  Now you’re getting too big for your britches and the knives are coming out.  It’s deeply ingrained in us.  Witness the Polaris ceremony where Fucked Up’s The Chemistry of Common Life won the Prize, and Metric tweeted “Wow!  Pop-core takes the Polaris Prize!  Surprise!”.  Witness the backlash against Nickelback when they take their staid post-grunge sound global, to great success.  Witness the grumbling about Arcade Fire not being “Canadian enough” because the Butlers hail from Texas.

Somehow, though, Drake has managed to sidestep all of that.  Perhaps it’s because he was so big, so quickly, that the usual forces that align to bring the crab back down to the bottom of the bucket were overwhelmed and outflanked.  It was hard to take seriously at first, after all:  Canadian TV actor, from Degrassi no less, becomes rapper.  Oh boy we all said, this is going to be deliciously awful.  He got signed to Young Money, the same label as the then-white-hot Lil’ Wayne, but the Canadian entertainment media didn’t take Canadian hip hop seriously enough to really take notice.  Who can blame them?  Despite a brief period of respectability in the Nineties with Rascalz, Kardinal Offishall, and maybe Choclair, the topography of Canadian hip hop is remarkably flat.  Among preachy heads like K-OS, goofy white boys like Classified and Buck 65 (okay, okay, and Tom Green), and bullshit hybrid acts like Swollen Members and Project Wyze, there was very little to recommend the scene to anyone.  I once drank with Baby Blue Sound Crew in a dorm in a tiny satellite campus of Laurier in Brantford.  That’s how non-glamorous Canadian hip hop was back in the day.

Then So Far Gone came out and we were suddenly credible as a place where rappers could come from.

So Far Gone was a revelation, still one of the best mixtapes I’ve ever heard.  I went into it extremely suspicious and came out of it a convert.  Since then, of course, the globe has accepted Drake as conqueror.  How many tracks in the Top 40 has he been on since Thank Me Later first dropped?  The global Spotify chart has “One Dance”, from Views, as the most-streamed track on Earth right now.  Before that was Rihanna’s “Work”, featuring Drake.  And so on.  When he turned his free mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, into an actual album to be paid for he set sales records.  When he got into a bizarre hip-hop beef with Philly also-ran Meek Mill, he somehow managed to not only come out on top but got his beef track nominated for a Grammy.  The Canadian crabs never had a chance because, despite the man’s steady repping for his hometown of Toronto, he was never solely ours, but belonged to the world at large.

Still, Views keeps him rooted in the home country.  The cover should be an indication of this, over and above anything else.  That’s the CN Tower Drizzy’s sitting on top of, the iconic symbol of Toronto’s waterfront skyline; he mentions Kennedy Road within moments on the opening track, “Keep Your Family Close”, and “Weston Road Flows” warrants a track all on its own (a standout one, at that).  Originally the album was to be titled Views From The 6, after Drake’s pushed nickname for the city (whether it refers to the area codes – 416 and 647 – or the original six boroughs is up to the individual), the 6 got dropped but not forgotten.

All of this is simply to say that Drake’s ascendancy to the top of the global pop pantheon is a little odd, from a Canadian perspective, but is also not surprising when you take the time to listen.  Drake isn’t a traditional rapper – although lately he’s been edging closer on certain tracks – but is a hybrid of rap and R&B.  He referred to himself as a “singing nigga’ on “Back 2 Back” and Views is very much a singing type of album, albeit one where he manages to flow back and forth between singing and rapping in a seemingly effortless fashion.  If you heard “Hotline Bling” – and don’t lie, we all know you did – then you’ve got the basic template for the album.  Glacial production courtesy of 40 and boi1da, Drake’s by-now signature flow, and some experimentation with style.  There’s more of a faintly Carribean vibe running through the album – another tribute to the city of Toronto – and it shows up most strongly on “With You” (another PARTYNEXTDOOR production), “Controlla” (which conjures up a sort of depressed dancehall thing), “One Dance” (currently the most-streamed track on Earth according to Spotify), and “Too Good”, which has Rihanna on the hook and will be the next song your grandmother will be singing at Christmas.  “Hotline Bling” has an odd cha-cha thing going on, so it manages to fit in quite well with everything else.

While this is all great stuff that pushes Drake’s envelope forward while still maintaining his basic structural integrity, there’s a couple of problems with Views.  The first is the overall lack of the haunting, harrowing Drake that featured so heavily on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.  On that mixtape-cum-album, Drake was running through the 6 with his woes.  On Views, it’s only “Hype”, “Grammys”, and “Pop Style” that resurrect this slightly more hardcore Drake.  “Pop Style” was released before the album to mixed reaction; this new version cuts out many of the guest verses and fits in much better on the tracklist.  What we’re presented on Views is a Drake that’s much the same as we’ve always seen on tracks like “Hold On We’re Going Home”: singing about his exes and his nostalgia for them over top-notch production.  In the rap/R&B balance, Views is very much an R&B album.  This would be perfectly fine – it’s the Drake we’ve all come to know, after all – but for the fact that Views is 20 songs and it should really only be 15 at maximum.  It’s a testament of sorts to the strength of the songs that’s it’s hard to say precisely what should be cut.  Do you cut the harder tracks and leave a spotless R&B album that puts even old-school Usher to shame?  Do you snip out a track like “Grammys”, which is a fine song but is obviously a left-over from Drake and Future’s collaboration album?  What about “Fire & Desire”?  “Child’s Play”?  “Redemption”?  All great tracks, but one of them should go if you’re going to edit the album.  This is almost assuredly why the album is 20 tracks long, because when you’re a superstar at Drake’s level if you don’t want to drop a song, no one is going to force you to do it.  It’s an inescapable conclusion, however, that Views is just too long.  It might have been more palatable if it had been released as two separate albums, as opposed to the oppressive monolith that it turned out to be.

“Oppressive” is hyperbole, of course, and despite the fact that it wears out its welcome even near it’s very strong finish Views is a solid behemoth of an album.  Even if it can’t be properly listened to in one sitting, it will get listened to in spurts all summer long (all summer sixteen) and more tracks will be spun off to grace the charts and contemporary radio stations around the world.  Drake is a crab that has escaped the bucket, even if he hasn’t escaped his romantic past.

[Views is currently an iTunes exclusive]

And The Rest…

Bibio

A Mineral Love

04/01/2016 on Warp Records

Meticulously constructed electronic music that doubles down on the artist’s signature rather than tries to progress.  Still, a minor triumph for that.

Explosions In The Sky

The Wilderness

04/01/2016 on Temporary Residence Records

Post-rock isn’t a thing, especially for Explosions In The Sky.  There’s no clearing of space here, no deconstruction to critique and re-imagine.  They’re the new standard, someone will eventually come along to post- them.  That said:  if we’re going to use the term in the “alternative” sense, in that it’s a meaningless coathook to hang a band on to neatly categorize them, then we also have to acknowledge that EITS are the absolute best at it.  Easily their best since All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone, it wears you down with successive layers of texture until it finally overwhelms your senses and leaves you drooling on the floor.

Charles Bradley

Changes

04/01/2016 on Daptone Records

Warm, raw soul music that features an improbable-but-excellent cover of Black Sabbath.  That’s the title track, by the way.  That Black Sabbath song.

Andrew Bird

Are You Serious?

04/01/2016 on Loma Vista Records

Disappointingly muddled by mundane domesticity, the portrait of the artist as he achieves the middle class and approaches middle age.

Bombino

Azel

04/01/2016 on PTKF Records

Setting aside the politics of the Tuareg people of Niger for a moment, it must be said that Bombino is the vanishing point between Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler.  The next time someone complains that “world music” is boring, slap them in the face with this.

Black Mountain

IV

04/01/2016 on Jagjaguwar Records

If you’ve heard one Black Mountain record, you’ve heard them all.  Hell, if you’ve heard one Black Sabbath album, you’ve heard Black Mountain.  Still, you can rarely go wrong with Seventies hard rock sounds.

The Last Shadow Puppets

Everything You’ve Come To Expect

04/01/2016 on Domino Records

Surprisingly decent and better than it has a right to be.  The overwhelming Alex Turner-ness of the songs renders it as something like a middling Arctic Monkeys album, and that’s okay.

Weezer

Weezer (The White Album)

04/01/2016 on Atlantic Records

Have you seen/read Pet Semetary?  That Stephen King book where an ancient Micmac burial ground brings the dead back to life, with horrible consequences?  I often feel that the second self-titled Weezer album – The Green Album, if we’re going to play their cutesy game – was the band rising from that burial ground.  It seemed okay at first.  The first two songs were great, classic Weezer tracks, even if the others were middling at best.  Since then…well, the rotting, demonic corpse of Gage Creed has a lot in common with latter day Weezer.  Now we have a fourth self-titled, another colour, and another heaping pile of warmed-over pop-punk shit.  Fuck this band.

Meek Mill – Dreams Worth More Than Money

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Meek Mill – Dreams Worth More Than Money

Nah, nah, it’s okay.  It’s pretty basic hip hop for 2015, the big problem is that Meek has one setting, and that’s YELL INTO THE MIC LIKE IT JUST KILLED HIS FAMILY.  “Lord Knows” is a great opener, the rest of the album is just okay, nothing special.  Drake’s verse on “R.I.C.O.” is decent, but not worth nearly killing your career over.when he doesn’t tweet about the album.

Let’s all take a moment to reflect on that, actually.  Meek shot himself in the foot and lost a (admittedly pretty small-time) rap beef to Aubrey “Jimmy The Wheelchair Kid” Graham over the fact that Drake didn’t tweet about Meek’s album coming out.

Like, holy shit.  It really is 2015, isn’t it?

Actually, one other thing.  Swizz Beatz’s chopped-up break on “Classic” is about as good as it gets.  That’s a good image for the album, come to think of it:  shiny production from some great producers that’s brought down as soon as Meek starts yelling about whatever.

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

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Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Yesterday Drake premiered a new video called “Jungle”, which was a music video in the sense that he’s a musician and it was a video.  There was no music, just a lot of sad and/or concerned Drake being driven from one place to another.  While this was sort of odd, his people confirmed that he was dropping some new tracks – some went ahead and said “mixtape” – later on, so no one was too weirded out by the whole thing.

As midnight approached the hype train went into full gear.  Mixtapes are a vital part of the modern hip hop release cycle and Drake had only released three before – the first of which, many were quick to point out, was So Far Gone, released six years ago to the day.  So when it suddenly appeared on Soundcloud and iTunes, 17 songs long and bearing the cryptic title If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, the explosions could be heard for miles.  But wait!  Was it a mixtape?  Mixtapes are free, traditionally, and this one got pulled off of Soundcloud pretty quickly – many were in mid-listen – leaving only the $12.99 iTunes link.  As it turns out, it’s both.  It’s a mixtape, spiritually, but in a very real sense it’s Drake’s fourth album on Cash Money Records, an official release that was just Beyonced onto the internet last night in the guise of something else.  The rationale for this may be more interesting than at first glace:  Reddit user /u/jarobizamboni brought up an interesting point when he said “yo drake just fucked bird man by dropping this as an album under cash money his contract says he has to release 4 albums and can whenever he wants and the album art is a direct message to bird man lol and now he’s a free agent 6ix god”.  Who knows – we’ll know a lot more when his much-hyped Views From The 6 drops theoretically later this year.

I have the strong feeling that a lot of what is on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is stuff that was cut from Views From The 6.  It’s all much better quality stuff than you typically find on a free mixtape, and the significance of that number – The 6, which Drake is using as a reference to his hometown of Toronto – is inescapable.  One of the early tracks (“Know Yourself”, one of the best singles all year) makes reference to running through the 6 with his woes, five of the tracks use the number in their title, and of course there’s the 6 that’s right smack on the cover of the album.  The album finds Drake going hard, in the vein of last year’s “0-100/The Catch-Up”; it doesn’t always suit him, but he makes it work throughout the album to his advantage.  There’s some real edge here that both references and outshines past braggadocio like “Worst Behaviour”.  There is, of course, the usual Drake shenanigans:  specifically “Madonna”, a weeper of a track that will make you call up all your exes and send flowers and stuff.  So in a sense it’s a typical Drake album, only the balance is reversed:  more hard stuff, less staying home and pining for your ex.

Is it just a collection of the less-commercial cast-offs from the hype beast that is Views From The 6?  Time will tell, but I know this:  if this is the quality of Drake’s cast-offs, then the actual album is going to be a juggernaut.

OH LOOK, it’s on Spotify – this shit’s no mixtape.

 

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