David Bowie – Blackstar:
Released two days before his death, “Blackstar” feels aware of its role as David Bowie’s final goodbye. Recorded between chemo sessions, Bowie’s looming death seeps into every aspect of the album. Lyrically, the songs address mortality in a variety of ways, from the philosophical introspection of “Lazarus” to the eerie occult imagery of the title track, “Blackstar.”
Fans of Bowie’s livelier pop anthems might be surprised by the gloomy tone of the album, which is reinforced by the strange music videos that accompanied the singles. The album has a very spacious atmosphere, achieved through jazzy guitar riffs and brass solos, dissonant vocal effects, sprawling string arrangements and a few well-placed synths.
Despite being one of Bowie’s most experimental albums, there’s still a lot of common ground with his other work, and his artistic style is recognizable in the guitar, piano and bass progressions that structure the songs.
After half a century of making progressive and influential music, “Blackstar” is an appropriately tragic conclusion to Bowie’s artistic endeavors. His swan song is haunting but sweet and concludes his monolithic career in true Bowie fashion: odd beauty.
Eric Copeland – Jesus Freak EP:
Think of the best party experience you’ve ever had. Now, think of the worst party experience you’ve had. Now take those two experiences, smash them together and – voila! You’ve got yourself Eric Copeland’s new EP, “Jesus Freak.”
Like many of Copeland’s projects before it, “Jesus Freak” is a sample-based collage of sound that melts seemingly contradictory feelings together into bouncy, off-the-wall electronica tracks. Copeland’s buzzy sub bass, wonky drum loops and screechy synth lines spin and swirl through filters and effects as the tracks groove into swampy dance club nightmares.
The album’s 7-minute centerpiece “Multiball” is a perfect example of Copeland’s stylistic attention to detail as the happy-go-lucky pop styles synonymous with dance music are replaced by a nauseating “bad-trip” distortion of a low-battery Fisher-Price toy.
Copeland’s experimentation with various sounds allows each track to have its own atmosphere and makes it difficult to describe the album as a whole with any certainty. The one thing that can definitely be said about “Jesus Freak” is that it is refreshingly original and unfamiliar. Aside from Copeland’s other albums and musical projects (“Black Dice,” “Terrestrial Tones”), it’s hard to find artists who are stylistically synonymous with Copeland, even within the experimental music community.
Travis Scott – Rodeo
After two full-length mixtapes and various guest appearances, Travis Scott comes out of the gate hot with his first full-length studio album, “Rodeo.” While Scott has contributed verses to a very impressive list of rappers, his production discography is even more baffling. Between producing tracks for Kanye West, Jay-Z, Drake and Rihanna, he’s established his own production style that shines through on this album.
As a whole, “Rodeo” has an upbeat but woozy feel to it, synonymous with the drug-filled capers that Scott’s lyrics often boast of. His Houston-trap influence is also prominent on this album, and there are plenty of unabashed bangers that keep the album from getting too drowsy.
One of Scott’s most notable stylistic choices is his heavy use of vocal effects, which he uses to texture the tracks in various ways. Auto Tune is almost always present, often in combination with heavy reverb, delay, distortion and tremolo. The impressive list of guest appearances is also worth mentioning, with 2 Chainz, Juicy J, The Weeknd, Chief Keef, Kanye West and Toro y Moi all adding their own personal flavors to album.
One of the most interesting guest appearances is on the track “Maria/I’m Drunk,” which features the unique duo of Justin Bieber and Young Thug. With a total runtime of over 65 minutes between the 14 tracks (plus two bonus tracks on the deluxe edition), Scott made a point to give “Rodeo” everything he had to offer and solidifies his position as an up-and-coming talent in the rap industry.
New Shack – Airplane (track review)
In anticipation of its upcoming album, Eingang, Provo-based electronic duo New Shack shared its latest single “Airplane” via bandcamp. On “Airplane,” New Shack’s dreamy pop bliss is cranked up the nth degree as Catherine Leavy’s voice delicately bounces over airy synth pads, calming guitar riffs and crisp drum loops.
The song ticks along at a relaxed speed, while Leavy’s lyrics do some wonderful word-painting of a life above the clouds. In a lot of ways, the song feels like a lullaby, and it can be hard to keep your mind from getting lost in the glittery dreamscape Leavy’s lyrics create. If “Airplane” is at all representative of New Shack’s new album, we can expect “Eingang” to be its most ethereal and intimate album to date. Listen to the single and New Shack’s other works at newshack.bandcamp.com and check out their free show at Urban Lounge on Feb. 18.