FIDLAR – TOO
“40 oz On Repeat” sounds like Weezer. “Punks” sounds like the Black Keys. “West Coast” sounds like the Gaslight Anthem. “Why Generation” sounds like bad radio indie – like if Kula Shaker was covering the original songs of a Strokes cover band. “Sober” is what Nada Surf would sound like if they were a goofy Epitaph pop punk band from the late Nineties. “Leave Me Alone” sounds like an outtake from Colleen Green.
It just gets depressing after that. Nothing sounds like FIDLAR. Fuck this dude, none of this is a risk. It’s the sound of a band that got some recognition for being good and immediately began scrambling towards the wads of cash that were being offered their way.
Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. I’m going to go drink some cheap beer, because I like it, and because FIDLAR obviously prefers Heineken these days.
Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
In the summer of 2006 I had been married for nine months, was living in the St. Catharines equivalent to the hood, and was contemplating a move to Toronto.
In the summer of 2006 Vince Staples was 13, living in Long Beach, and being introduced to a series of heady firsts: first love, first time with drugs, first exposure to gangbanging. Summertime ’06 is the story of that summer, replete with mentions of moving drugs, falling in love, having to deal with the death of friends, and feelings of being out of control and suicidal. As a document of growing up black in Greater Los Angeles, it rivals good kid m.A.A.d. city, although it lacks that album’s dense lyricism and grander sense of purpose. It’s an honest surprise coming from Vince Staples, who first came into my consciousness via “Epar” on Earl Sweatshirt’s self-titled debut EP. His mixtapes have always been solid although fairly uneventful; his real strength only began to glimmer on the features he had on Doris, Earl Sweatshirt’s first full-length. For a guy who at the age of 18 had yet to think of himself as ever being a rapper, Vince Staples is possessed of a good flow and a coherent sense of himself in service to the album as a whole.
He’s aided by the production of course, in this case a three-way meeting of the minds between No I.D., DJ Dahi, and the inimitable Clams Casino. They eschew fashionable trap beats in favour of filtered, flayed, fucked-up sampling and synth work. Clams Casino is especially in fine form: “Norf Norf”, “Summertime”, and “Surf” are perfect examples of his drugged-out, crawling style of beat, and Staples sounds suitably pensive and moody on top of them. No I.D. – Kanye West’s mentor and one-time in-house producer – creates a lot of the rest of the album, and tracks like “Lemme Know”, “Jump Off The Roof”, and “3230” are among the best beats he’s ever produced. “Jump Off The Roof” should be singled out all on its own; Staples rides the beat effortlessly and makes losing your mind and contemplating suicide seem like the best idea ever conceived.
I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, and on Summertime ’06 both the storyteller and the medium come together in a way that comes along very rarely. Staples brings street-level imagery but does it in such a way that it never feels forced or cliche. It’s foremost an admission of having lived what he says, and a look back on his whirlwind gangsta adolescence with the immediate nostalgia of being twentysomething and the wide-eyed shock of a survivor. The production team teases out these images and feelings with the deft touch of mastery, adding gravitas to what could easily have been overblown and annoyingly over-the-top. Easily one of the best albums of the year, and one of the best hip hop albums of the decade.
Colleen Green – I Want To Grow Up
Once upon a time I had high hopes for Colleen Green. When she put out her first super lo-fi tracks, back when Milo Goes To Compton was a thing, I thought she was the coolest person in indie rock. She was living proof that all you needed was a guitar, a drum machine, and a bag of weed, and you too could make emotionally connecting pop music. It was freeing in a way that made me instantly fall in love. Then her “actual” debut, Sock It To Me, came out and it fell kind of flat. Sure, the quirks that made up her songwriting style were there, but everything sounded too professional, as though some hidebound engineer had been sitting in the studio saying “OK Ms. Green, that’s cool and all, but we need these to sound like actual songs.” I Want To Grow Up is kind of like that as well, but it’s a bit better in that she seems to have grown used to having to write actual songs that normal people can listen to and not be weirded out by. This makes for some great moments – the two-parter “Things That Are Bad For Me” being the best – but the overall effect is of a jaded Los Angelite channeling Red Album era Weezer. In other words, a decent listen but pretty ho-hum for all of that.
Foxygen is the result of a love for Sixties psychedelic troubadour rock filtered through a fine David Bowie mesh. Their third album is at once highly derivative and yet wholly original. Taken from the aspect of being an album solidly rooted in the 1960s, it is highly inventive, and stands alongside the bands it references as an equal, not a clone. None of the band members were alive when this sort of music was made, nor were they living during the waves of bands that referenced those bands. Nevertheless, they hit every mark with style and aplomb, whether it’s evoking Dylan on “No Destruction”, referencing Sgt. Peppers on their own intro, or shapeshifting Lennon with Seventies glam on the three-part “Shuggie”. The album is perfect to play around aging hippies; they get all misty-eyed and start talking about their favourite parts of the Sixties. Meanwhile, it’ll also get your local hipsters into a serious groove, getting the jump started in whatever espresso cafe or bookstore/bar you happen to be happening in. If they aren’t into it by the time that thrilling run in the first part of “On Blue Mountain” comes around, they weren’t worth the plaid anyway. Dress like a fop, smoke some pot, and guzzle cheap wine like it were going out of style: the band doesn’t just suggest that you do so, it demands it.
Final Mark: A