Platinum Blog #14: A$AP Rocky

Album Review: A$AP Rocky | At.Long.Last.A$AP

Finally, an identity. Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky’s debut commercial release, Long.Live.A$AP, was a largely forgettable collection of tired hip hop tropes; beautiful women, clouds of weed, and expensive jewelry were featured extensibly.  While Rocky came away with a few excellent singles (the rumbling “Fuckin’ Problems” and the dub-reggae-inspired Skrillex collaboration “Wild For The Night” being the best of the bunch), it seemed like most other similar artists could’ve rapped the same lyrics over the same beats and received the same results. Consequently, many of the deeper cuts and B-sides of Long.Live.A$AP just seemed uninspired; A$AP Rocky isn’t a master lyricist. After I finished listening to the record, I wondered to myself, “Who is A$AP Rocky?” He failed to carve out his own identity throughout the album. Luckily, with his follow-up, At.Long.Last.A$AP, Rocky has given us a strong, well-produced, cohesive rap album that will be in my rotation throughout the rest of 2015.

In At.Long.Last.A$AP, A$AP Rocky embraces drugs. This isn’t a concept album, but LSD, molly, lean, and other fruitful concoctions appear on nearly every song. Take single “L$D” for example; Rocky insists the title stands for “Love, Sex, Dreams”, but, like, come on. This is 2015 hip hop. “L$D” sees Rocky coo effortlessly over light bass and smooth electric guitars; who knew he could sing this soulfully? This track is one of the standouts of At.Long.Last.A$AP, and perhaps best elicits the feeling of a drug trip.

In fact, the entire album likely mirrors how Rocky imagines music should sound while under the influence of LSD. Aesthetically, it’s extremely unique. We get these hazy, relaxed instrumentals with limited bass and layered strings and guitars, yet Rocky projects his signature double-time anti-syncopation flow over the top. It reminds me of Kanye West, who, better than anyone alive, can make impossible beats rappable. Speaking of Kanye, the song “Jukebox Joints” gives both production credits and a guest verse to Yeezy. Rocky clearly takes a lot of cues from Kanye, combining the themes of wealth and drugs to create what can best be described as “luxury-core”.

This album has an absolutely gargantuan amount of features; artists that appear on this album include M.I.A., Future, Kanye, Mark Ronson, Miguel, Juicy J, Schoolboy Q, and an absolutely fired-up Lil Wayne, sounding better than he has since Tha Carter III. On “M’$”, Tunechi spits an absolute animal of a guest verse, once and for all severing ties with mentor Birdman. While none of the features stack up to Lil Wayne’s, special recognition deserves to go to a confident Schoolboy Q on “Electric Body” and a soulful Miguel on “Everyday”.

This is an album, similar to many great electronica records, that doesn’t require full attention for the listener to receive full enjoyment. It’s extremely relaxing; the musical equivalent of acid. The listener can very easily just space out and groove to the spacious instrumentals and accessible vocals from Rocky. While (aside from “L$D”) there aren’t many moments that blow me away, At.Long.Last.A$AP is a well-crafted commercial hip hop record. Rocky just needs to chill with the mid-song beat switches.

Score: 7/10

Five songs I’m listening to this week

Tame Impala | “Eventually”

Miguel | “Coffee”

Leon Bridges | “River”

Disclosure | “Holding On”

Nao | “Inhale Exhale”

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Platinum Blog #13: PC Music

Album Review: PC Music | Volume 1

PC Music is pretty damn weird. The UK-based electronic pop music label has gathered a remarkable amount of hype in its short lifespan. Founded in August 2013 by producer A.G. Cook, PC Music (more so than any other well-known artist or label in recent years) falls under the category of love-it-or-hate-it. In my opinion, about 2/3 of the material they release is fantastic; the other third is awful and grating. All of PC Music’s releases generally contain commonalities: British female pitch-shifted voices, bright synthesizers, and sharp hi-hats and kick drums. However, the catalog of artists they have is remarkable, and despite the musical similarities between them, each individual artist is able to carve out a niche within the spectrum of PC Music.

Last week, PC Music released their first official compilation album, PC Music Volume 1. Seven artists within the label contributed to the ten-track album, which essentially serves as a sample platter for everything that PC Music has to offer. While artists within the label like A.G. Cook and GFOTY have released album-length mixes in the past, each track on this album is just that–a track. The opener, Hannah Diamond‘s “Every Night”, includes all the characteristics of PC Music that I outlined earlier. Simply put, it’s a near-perfect pop song. The innocence in the lyrics (“I like the way that you know that I like how you look”) coupled with the layered vocals and clear, but not technically superior, voice of Diamond evoke a better version of Taio Cruz’s pop smash “Dynamite”. If that seems like a strange comparison, it is; PC Music, at it’s poppiest, is most similar to early 2010s pop radio.

A.G. Cook’s tracks are predictably solid; “Beautiful” is very sweet and earnest. While some of PC Music’s releases (most notably producer Sophie) have a tinge of self-awareness, “Beautiful” is yet another pop classic. Later, with “Keri Baby” (which features Diamond), Cook creates what might be the closest thing to a banger that PC Music has released. You won’t like it on first listen, but when the disjointed vocal tracks and fuzzy synths cohere, you’ll be be singing along.

Some of the lesser-known PC Music artists appear on Volume 1 as well, and these tracks are the ones that really set PC Music apart. In particular, Thy Slaughter’s “Bronze” (which is my favorite track PC Music has released to date). The nearly immediate releases from dissonance on this track, and the sheer number of major chords (of which there are A LOT) make this a pop masterpiece. EasyFun‘s “Laplander”, which also appeared on EasyFun’s debut EP Deep Trouble, is a really good dance track. That EP, coming in at almost exactly 10 minutes, shows how an artist within PC Music can offer something unique while continuing to fall within the overarching theme of the label.

Like I said, when PC Music is good, it’s great, but when it’s poor, it’s terrible. GFOTY has two tracks on the album, and I can’t stand either of them. They both feature repeated voice samples, and are just a difficult listen. I do, however, like the concept behind GFOTY’s “Don’t Wanna / Let’s Do It”; it describes the concept of decision-making while impaired very well. Cook’s alter ego Lipgloss Twins appears on the compilation as well, with the track “Wannabe”. It sounds exactly like a GFOTY song, so you can probably guess how I feel about it. Its incoherent vocal samples and seemingly random drum strikes make the track nearly impossible to listen to. It’s on these tracks where I wonder who PC Music tries to appeal to; are they even serious? Is this satirical?

PC Music isn’t for everyone; after listening to Volume 1, you’ll know whether you like them or not. The pop songs are fantastic, and the experimental tracks fall flat.

Score: 8/10

Thanks, Shura

Shura has released four fantastic pop songs over the past year. Listen to them here. My personal favorite is “Just Once”.

Five songs I’m listening to this week

Giorgio Moroder | “Deja Vu” (feat. Sia)

Wet | “Deadwater”

Disclosure | “Bang That”

Tame Impala | “Disciples”

Kehlani | “The Letter”