By: Neil MacAlister and Courtney Miller
Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples
Over the years, Vince Staples has been steadily progressing as an artist; sharpening his already deft, evocative lyricism; adjusting his sound to fit his growth; and building his albums around tighter, more powerful concepts. His last project, Prima Donna, was a harrowing account of the psychological perils of fame, and less than a year later, he’s returned with an even more powerful follow up. Big Fish Theory delves into dozens of interwoven topics, from Staples’ position in the rap game to its effect on his relationships and his mental state to the way his brutal childhood brought him to where he is today. With collaborators ranging from Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky to Bon Iver and SOPHIE, it’s certainly his most experimental work yet. But for all the risks, Staples comes out with a cohesive experience. It’s Staples at his most menacing, building up suspenseful soundscapes and addressing both physical and psychological horrors in his signature monotone delivery. Vince Staples knows that his position in the rap game is like a big fish in a little pond, but his trick is that he doesn’t care about the pond. – NM
4:44 by Jay-Z
It’s been four years since we last had a Jay-Z album, but that didn’t mean Jay’s name stayed out of the media. Last year, Beyoncé’s Lemonade eviscerated her husband for his infidelity, laying bare his mistakes for the world to see. This week, Jay finally broke his silence, and released his long-awaited thirteenth album, 4:44. As intimated in the aptly-titled opening track, “Kill Jay Z,” this isn’t necessarily a Jay-Z album: it’s a Shawn Carter album, delving deeper into the life of the man behind the legend than anything before. At times, the things Jay says feel almost too personal. The intricacies of his infidelity, his mother’s sexuality, his tenuous relationship with Kanye, and the time he shot his own brother all find their place on the album. Production veteran No I.D. soundtracked the entire 10-track masterpiece, bringing out the best in Jay with his signature sample-heavy style, chopping up songs from Nina Simone, the Fugees, Stevie Wonder, and more. Jay’s one of rap’s foremost veterans, and there’s a reason his name gets mentioned with the martyrs. He’s one of the greatest of all time, and 4:44 proves that age hasn’t dulled his shine. – NM
Last Young Renegade by All Time Low
This pop punk band has been a staple in my life since their kickass album Nothing Personal. They lost me a bit when they hit too much autotune for a vocalist who doesn’t need it during Dirty Work, and got me back hardcore with the badass, lyrically clever, and head-banging Don’t Panic.
Last Young Renegade is not their strongest offering, neither was their last, Future Hearts. The intelligence to the lyrical content hasn’t stayed top-notch and the album feels a little boring. The vocal range isn’t tested, the bass riffs aren’t given much prominence, and the percussion mostly just floats along without really knowing where it’s going.
The thing about All Time Low is that they have a habit of making some of their best tracks bonus tracks. “Vampire Shift” is a recommended track and should have been on the actual album listing. Actually on the list is “Life of the Party.” While it exhibits more vocal range, the title gets used too much in the lyrics. This album hits all the notes pop punk is supposed to hit, but it falls flat.
I love these guys, I think it’s impressive that they’ve been together for more than ten years without breaking up, but it feels like they’ve matured past pop punk and are trying too hard to stay in that little box. What comes out is stuff that could be really good, but doesn’t know how to make the leap to that next level. – CM
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