Intensive Care, With Pure Cocoa Butter (Calvin Harris, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 review)

Every summer features an album that perfectly establishes what that feeling should sound like, but the challenge for me is that I eventually tire of summer and want to cool off with fall weather. This summer we’ve found our winner.

 

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1

released Jun 30, 2017
******** 8/10

Adam Richard Wiles, better known as Calvin Harris, is a Scottish producer, disc jockey, singer, songwriter, and musician – though he’s mostly a DJ producer. He first charted with 2007’s I Created Disco, apt given that his music is often given modern pop treatments, with a hint of disco years past.

But that was ten years ago, and four more records have been released since then. Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1 is the fifth studio album from Harris and it’s easily his best one yet.

Featuring only a couple of real misses, which I’ll outline below, the collaborations on this one are on point, and should be welcomed with open arms. Of particular note are Frank Ocean, Migos, Future, Khalid, Pharell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean. But by far, the diamond in the rough of this record is the appearance of new comer Jessie Reyez.

Hard To Love is just such a great closing track, and Reyez vocals really compliment Harris’ use of guitar and simple drum tracks. Reyez reminds me of a combination of Macy Gray, Alessia Cara, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Billy Holiday. It’s just an amazingly satisfying track to listen to. And that’s the power of Harris, he just seems to know intuitively when to pair sounds together with artists and make beautiful music.

He is better at sticking with production and leaving the lyrics to his contemporaries. A great example of this is combining the talents of Future with Khalid, and man does it ever work to our benefit on Rollin.

Of course I would be remiss not to at least write a couple of sentences about the standout song of this record. It’s mindless fun, but man is the song Feels enjoyable to listen to, and I’ll never be afraid to catch feels again thanks to the message being drummed into my head over and over. This is feel-good music, featuring the appropriate amount of trilling and hip hoping.

It might not be an album laden with singles, but Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1 does a great job of promoting the range of sounds Harris is more than capable of exploring, and I think it assures us we’ll have another decade or two with the DJ producer.

Pros: When it comes to sunsoaked sounds, the essential tracks of Feels, Slide, and Rollin will do more then enough to please your ears, evoke the tropics, summer driving, and disco boogies.

Cons: Maybe it’s just Nicki Minaj that gets on my nerves, but Skrt On Me is super boring and barely there, making it even worse then the lounge sounds of Prayers Up

Runtime: 38 minutes

Points of Interest: Calvin Harris promises ten new singles for 2017, and four of the ten tracks have fulfilled that role. The album debuted at number two on both US and UK album charts upon release.

Ditching techno and EDM may have alienated some of his fans, but featuring Snoop Dogg on this record for Holiday is a very welcome experience and like LCD Soundsystem did way back in the early 2000s, I’m glad Harris traded in synthesizers for guitars. He’s one of the hardest working musicians in the business.

theories Summarized

I think we can expect even greater things from Calvin Harris in the decade to come, and while he didn’t share too much of his personality or feelings in the past, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 definitely feels like more of a passion project then other works of years past. So don’t be afraid to catch feels Calvin.

Tim!

Arm Chair Philosophy (Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory review)

Philosophy is a wonderful thing. Rich, compelling, and full of room to experiment, because there isn’t one world view per se.

 

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

released Jun 23, 2017
******* 7/10

Vincent Jamal Staples, better known by his stage name, Vince Staples, is an American rapper and member of the hip hop group Cutthroat Boyz. He has also been associated with Odd Future and gained attention by making appearances on their albums as well from a mixtape he worked on with Mac Miller, Stolen Youth.

Staples debut album, Summertime ’06, was already released two years ago, which is why his sophomore effort, Big Fish Theory, has a lot to say for itself and about this new renaissance of hip hop, EDM and pop. Much like his contemporaries, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Childish Gambino (who is supposedly leaving music behind), Staples is perfectly comfortable with living in the weirdness of our generation. That means producing a record which could be ethereal and amelodic or one that combines sounds of the past to propel us into the future. Big Fish Theory is the later.

And I have to wonder if calling upon his previous skills as a documentarian, celebrating a self-proclaimed posthumous guardianship of Amy Winehouse, who features on Alyssa Interlude, and his hyperawareness of his own mortality/celebrity are the driving factors of Staples’ successes here or merely a perk when listening to the record.

The weirdness shows throughout the whole album, and might be best demonstrated in one of the later songs, Party People. Staples raps about how you can either move to the music if it hits you right OR you can sit there in your depression swimming with thoughts and a heavy heart, after all, the world is dark for some of us. This is not your baby sisters hip hop, nor is it aunties or grandpas. These beats are different then pretty much anything I’ve ever heard, and it works well, most of the time.

Not only that, but Vince Staples is happy to push his collaborators into the backdrop and have them as part of the song rather then front and centre, in fact he even pushes himself into a minor role on one of the songs. Kendrick Lamar fits nicely inside Yeah Right, an attack on the chest-puffing of most rap tracks. And there are definitely blink and you might miss it appearances from Juicy J, ASAP Rocky, Kilo Kish, Ray J, Ty Dolla Sign, and Damon Albarn.

The challenges with this album come in on the structure and organization of the songs, which can be heard best when you listen to tracks like Crabs In A Bucket, Love Can Be…, and Ramona Park Is Yankee Stadium. The questions I have immediately are around the experimentation. Exploration is awesome, but do these really compliment Staples cadence and content? It’s interesting for sure to have the bird calls, sirens, and whistling winds, but where is this going? Crabs In A Bucket sets the stage for a complex album, but it doesn’t feel like his strongest work, for sure.

That said, there are some really surprisingly fun tracks like 745 and Rain Come Down that intrigue despite shortcomings. Tonally these suit Staples well and the melodic choices sync up well with the speed at which he lays down his lyrics, but the best parts come from the verses and his rapping.

It is an experimentation of electronic music and hip hop, the kind of thing which metal-hip hop hybrid groups of the 1990s tried to accomplish but never really pulled off. And maybe that’s because those artists were metal first and hip hop second. Vince Staples confidence is so much more convincing.

Pros: Big Fish, the aforementioned Yeah Right and Party People are absolutely necessary on this album. An exploration of suicidal thoughts, the nature of hip hop, and what needs to happen next, Big Fish Theory is conscious hip hop, even if it isn’t labelled as such.

Cons: Rain Come Down is a little off in its warbling and takes the album into weird territory just as Big Fish Theory ends, much like how Crabs In A Bucket has a shaky start, it’s the middle of this record that does best.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of Interest: Influenced by house music and Detroit techno, Big Fish Theory calls up avant-garde electronica, funk, industrial music and a host of other sounds to afford Vince Staples with the creative expression he needs to transcend his environment. That Def Jam supports this sort of experimentation is fantastic, despite how discomfiting it is for most hip hop fans.

When music separates itself from it’s environment for even a second, acknowledges the world around it, and then zooms back in, it’s often a pleasing experience, and luckily for us world weary philosopher Vince Staples shared his Big Fish Theory with us.

theories Summarized

Keeping an open mind and heart is a wonderful philosophy and I hope Staples inspires other musicians to continue this trend. Yes, there will be blips in the road along the way, but how wonderful it is that we can have some good hip hop and EDM combined together for once, rather then remixes and overdubs. And that’s my personal big fish theory.

Tim!

Everybody In The Club Gettin’ Tipsy (Gorillaz, Humanz review)

 

Hosting a party is easy, as long as you can get your different friend groups to play nice, keep everyone engaged, and don’t disappear for a smoke or three.

 

Gorillaz – Humanz

released April 28, 2017
******* 7/10

Gorillaz are an English virtual cartoon band created by Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett of Tank Girl fame. This band is made up of 2-D (lead vocals, keyboards), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar and vocals), Noodle (guitar, keyboards), and Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion).

The fictional universe of Gorillaz is constructed by the music Albarn creates and their personas have been formed by the collaborations Albarn has orchestrated with other artists whom have made sense creatively with the otherworldly sounds of the band. Plus Hewlett adds visual flavour in album covers, concept art, and music videos, among other things. And all of this has worked over the current four phases of Gorillaz history. None of it ever feels quite real, and yet it is familiar because the quartet address issues of our time, albeit through their cartoon lens of mystery.

It’s all quite heady and fun.

And that’s because Gorillaz are combining rock, rap, electronica, reggae, pop, trip hop, and an assortment of other sounds together to evoke the feelings needed to build these worlds, and Albarn has been fairly consistent throughout this journey.

But it’s also been seven years since The Fall, and the end of Phase Three – Escape To Plastic Beach.

Phase Four – We Are Still Humanz catches us up on what has been happening with Noodle, Murdoc, Russel, and 2-D, and its been interesting. Lots of references to their time at Plastic Beach, and even incorporation of social media into their lives, but of particular note is how Gorillaz used YouTube to tease the albums release, adding new videos about a month ahead of the official worldwide release date.

Featuring performances from Anthony Hamilton, Jehnny Beth, Mavis Staples, Vince Staples, Peven Everett, D.R.A.M., Jamie Principle, Danny Brown, Grace Jones, Zebra Katz, Del La Soul, Benjamin Clementine, Kelela, Popcaan, Pusha T., and Kali Uchis, each track runs its own course; some faring better than others, but the interludes helping to form a post-apocalyptic story following the US presidency of Donald Trump.

And it’s entertaining. A party for the end of the world, with each room being all the more appealing and with its own decor. Though I have to wonder if staging a house party with club music is really the right solution to the scenario at hand, after all, you’re still at the house. On top of that consideration is the challenge that frontman 2-D is notably absent from a lot of the tracks, this seems to be more of a free-for-all than a bonafide representation of these artists as a voice for Gorillaz.

That said, it’s kinda exciting to see the younger generation getting excited about artists unfamiliar to them through the looking glass that Albarn so deftly supplies. This is his project you know, and he’ll invite whoever he wants to party with him. Plus, he’s cool enough that these new friends will rub off on you.

theories Summarized

If you’ve ever listened to Clint Eastwood or Feel Good Inc. before, you can probably forgive Gorillaz for sounding a bit disjointed on this effort. Besides, the interludes help give this record a sense of continuity, even if 2-D isn’t there often enough to keep up with his hosting duties. Maybe Murdoc will finally step in, we know he wants to be lead anyway.

Tim!

Third Wave Metaphor (Tove Lo, Lady Wood review)

Wiz Khalifa is something of an enigma, he jumped off the lot with Black and Yellow back in 2010, but did you know he had been generating buzz since about 2005? And ever since then he’s collaborated with a ton of other crowd disturber personalities. Did you know he has over 100 collaborative efforts?

He must have some kinda influence? And guess what, he paired up with another Swedish shit disturber to riff on the subject of influence. And she’s on the docket for a review this week too…

Tove Lo – Lady Wood
released October 28, 2016
******** 8/10

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Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, better known by her stage name Tove Lo, is a Swedish singer and songwriter.

Lo formed the Swedish rock band Tremblebee in 2006, but when that group disbanded, she pursued a song-writing career and was able to get a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell music in 2011. By 2014 she secured an incredible arrangement with Wolf Cousins that led to a record deal with Island and Polydor. Tove Lo has now released two studio length albums, the first being Queen of the Clouds, and most recently the two-part concept album Lady Wood.

In addition to solo work, Lo was a co-writer on Hilary Duff’s Sparks and Ellie Goulding’s Love Me like You Do. She has also worked with Coldplay, Flume, Nick Jonas, Years & Years, Seven Lions, and Wiz Khalifa, among others. Lo is known rather openly for her autobiographical lyrical content and the often dark tone which moves the narrative of each song forward. She is also quite comfortable with indulging love, sex, and death wherever and whenever she can.

For instance, in anticipation of her album release, Tove Lo just released an accompanying short film called Fairy Dust which pairs with and features tracks from Lady Wood. It ‘s directed by Tim Erem and stars both actress Lina Esco an Tove Lo in various vignettes which tell a slick story with a strong third wave feminist bend to it. I can’t say too much about the explicit direction of the story (and it is explicit, too explicit for YouTube), but it is rather conceptual and definitely not something to open at work or around the kiddies.

Part I is about the movement towards sex – anticipation, indulgence, consideration, consequence.

Yeah you give me wood, give me lady wood – This is the anthem of this first half of the album. Whether it’s about the addictive nature of lust on Influence, the technical and literal of what happens to a woman’s chemistry on Lady Wood, debauchery and complexity of emotion serviced via synthesizers on True Disaster, the allure of having fun and hooking up on Cool Girl (an homage to the Gone Girl persona), and finally that feeling of love as it overtakes your sensations delivered via Vibes.

Part II is the aftermath of it all – loneliness, vulnerability, complexity, withdrawal.

It’s darker and dejected, almost like that afterglow is gone, but the energy of desire hasn’t returned just yet. Don’t talk about it, sweep it under the rug like we do, do – and such is the anthem of the second half of this album. The questioning hedonist, wondering if the consequences have been worth it, but still alone. Don’t Talk About It is an expression of lamentation, while Imaginary Friend is more of a defence mechanism against haters, Keep It Simple an update on Habits (Stay High) because she’s still struggling but older, while Flashes is straight up self-awareness minced with self-hate, and last but not least, WTF Love Is audibly shows the problems she faces, confusion about her identity and desires. She has emotions she cannot harness and yet she wants something personal.

Ultimately, you might not “like” her music, but it’s really difficult not to get on board with Tove Lo and her natural ability to produce a strong set of tracks. Lady Wood is clever, catchy, and conscious. I cannot believe I read this in The National of all places, but they’re on point. Tove Lov is making the closest thing to punk rock EDM as is possible right now. It’s dark and desperate, but her sense of counter culture is ever-present – She’s under the influence, and this is the best place in the world.

 

 

 

Let’s close this review out with a dovetail. You should probably listen to this album. But you’re an adult and you can make up your own mind. So I’ll let you think on it. But if Wiz Khalifa is into it, and he managed one of the biggest hits of all time via See You Again, then it’s time to stand up and listen. Could just be a theory though.

Tim!

It’s Pretty Refreshing (Ellie Goulding, Delirium review)

What do you do when you really like something and you’re afraid of that old adage “too much of a good thing?” Fun fact, one of the earliest examples of this phrase in print is from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Turns out, if you are like me, you just go for it and hope you haven’t just wasted your time and hard earned dollars.

That’s why this week’s timotheories Melodic Monday review is so enticing. I am already in love with this artist, not romantically, mind you, it might be worse than that. I’m delirious over her music.

 

 

 

Ellie Goulding – Delirium
released November 6, 2015
********** 10/10

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Elena “Ellie” Goulding is a very multi-dimensional singer and musician. Her career began in 2009 (my opinion), when she signed to Polydor Records.

She released Lights In 2010, and with it the title track reached top 10 lists in the US billboards in 2011. Goulding’s second studio album, Halcyon, was released in 2012. The lead single was Anything Could Happen.

Three years later, we have finally been introduced to Goulding’s third studio album, titled Delirium, with On My Mind as the album’s lead single.

This is a very surreal album to listen to folks.

Hold up for a minute, give me a minute here to explain my rationale a bit better. I mention this quality of Delirium because I really, really, really like it, but I don’t know how many other people will appreciate this record right out of the gate.

I immediately enjoyed it, but I can see why some of her biggest advocates will be disappointed by the seemingly “sudden” shift from EDM and electropop tones into a mature dancepop effort. But I’m a grown man and this is not only the album I didn’t realize I wanted, but it’s the one that fans of Goulding need. Sorry, not sorry for the Dark Knight reference.

All of the songs tackle topics of love, life, and labour, but they don’t treat us like children and hopeless romantics while they do it. Again, as I mentioned, I find it weird to listen to, because it’s a pop album.

But I think this album represents a turning point in pop music. We are finally starting to see more nuanced efforts in the industry, and it’s because talented artists enjoy this kind of music too and they want to participate in the culture.

Goulding calls this her “big pop” album, and it makes that mark very clearly. Being a child of the 80’s, you could make an argument that she is better suited for this synth resurgence than her contemporaries. I know I do.

The intro track starts us off strong, with stadium inspired instrumentals, and leads us right into Aftertaste, one of my favourite tracks on the album. This one is about an ending relationship, a sober one at that, but without all of the bitterness at the end.

Something In The Way You Move is next up and will remind you of track 9, Love Me Like You Do, which apparently was released for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, but I won’t hold that against her.

On My Mind, is a clever enough song, and opens you up for the more exciting ones which show up midway through the album – Don’t Panic, and We Can’t Move to This.

Army is an epic track for sure, but I really think the bonus track on the deluxe edition, I Do What I Love, showcases Goulding’s unique voice and where she has come 3 albums and 6 years later.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I’m already a fan of Ellie Goulding, so I bought the deluxe edition of the album, and as a result I’ve been treated to an additional 7 tracks. Which I think are essential. Outside and Powerful are great collaboration choices. Besides, who doesn’t like Calvin Harris and Major Lazer?

You need to listen to this album. Period.

 

 

 

It really was a tough decision to make, because I had promised myself I would do whatever I could to buy and review albums from artists that I hadn’t heard much of previously or whom I did not already own something in their catalogue.

But this was too difficult to resist. And I think I just gave my first 10. What do you think? Was I off the mark? Leave some comments!

Tim!