U.S. Girls – Half Free
In a recent Vice interview, Meg Remy – long-time noisemaker and the brains behind U.S. Girls – mentioned that the two biggest influences for Half Free were John Cassavetes and Bruce Springsteen. The sense of getting into the heads of characters, then, is an obvious starting point for the album, but it’s really Bruce Springsteen that seems to take on the lion’s share of influence here. It starts with the cover photo: Remy in black and white, staring into the camera with seemingly the exact same expression that the Boss has on the cover of The River. It continues on through the songs, which are all portraits of women in a variety of nightmarish scenarios; the nightmares take on a more visceral bent due to the fact that these are ordinary women in ordinary worlds and the problems that they find themselves mired in are all too depressingly plausible. “Sororal Feelings” examines a woman in a crumbling marriage who discovers that her husband has slept with her three sisters; “Damn That Valley” wraps a vicious examination of the failures of the U.S. War on Terror in the grief-stricken wail of a woman whose solider husband won’t be coming home. “Window Shades” follows up a snide skit on being “another woman with no self-esteem” with a woman who’s finally able to confront her no-account cheating boyfriend. The seven-minute closer “Woman’s Work” is a hazy, cluttered Italo Disco masterpiece that rages against the religion of beauty and growls that a woman’s work is never finished. Half Free is a deeply feminist record, an account of finding inner strength despite the odds stacked against women from all walks of life
This is music, though, so we need to look at the musical aesthetic of the album. This is where Half Free starts to lose me a little. “Sororal Feelings” is flawless, a perfect opener with a deceitful chorus that is probably never going to leave my brain. “Damn That Valley” finds catharsis in a monster reggae beat, and Remy finds the right vocal lilt to ride it perfectly. That said, it feels as though there’s too much piled on to the track – a problem that could be said of “New Age Thriller”, “Sed Knife”, and “Red Comes In Many Shades” as well. This is where Remy’s background comes in; she spent her pre-Toronto years recording shitgaze and noise pop for tiny noise labels, burying her classic radio chops in waves of distortion, instrumentation, and tape noise. Those days are still evident in many places throughout Half Free, and while I enjoy noise and clutter, there are parts of the album that I feel would have benefited from a cleaner mix, or at the very least a couple fewer voices (the hard-as-nails rock of “Sed Knife” is a great example of this).
Still, aesthetic quibbles aside, Half Free is an astonishing record that speaks to both the galvanizing effect that having a greatly increased budget can have on a creative and passionate artist, and to the keen eye 4AD has for picking those creative and passionate artists. If Meg Remy wasn’t on your radar before, put her on it – there are bigger things to come.
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.
Metz – II
One of the problems with hardcore is that you can only do so much with it. The Replacements discovered that limitation after Sorry Ma Forgot To Take Out The Trash. They switched over the course of two albums to a much rootsier version of themselves, taking their hardcore roots along into a more generalistic approach. Same with Husker Du, whose monolith of American hardcore – Zen Arcade – showed cracks of folk and straight up rock (New Day Rising would go on to widen those cracks considerably). Ian MacKaye could only sustain the white-hot minute-long intensity of Minor Threat for so long before cutting out to broaden his horizons with Fugazi.
Metz has not learned this lesson. Coming off of a very well regarded self-titled debut, the Toronto band has chosen to double down on their sound and reproduce another album of crushing modern hardcore. While this is nice – METZ was a great album after all – it does nothing to advance them at all. II is the sound of a band perfectly content to tread water, which is an inadvisable career move in 2015. Where the first album felt fresh, II just comes off as a stale retread, which is a real shame considering the possibilities.
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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Just as a reminder, I have a book for sale, you can access a link to it in the Books page to your left. People like it. You probably will too, unless you get squeamish about the darker aspects of human existence.
A sample chapter is available here: http://goo.gl/qJWSLH
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I’m glad that so many people like the guide to GBV, there will be more discographies in the future. I like writing them and people seem to enjoy reading them. I already have two ready to go, so look for those in the coming days.
Also, since you’re here, consider buying a book. People also tend to like it, I find.