The Weeknd–“Beauty Behind the Madness” Review

by Andrew Katsiris

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Canada has been no stranger to sharing the musical talents of its natives with the world.  From infamous pop stars like Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Bieber to the hip-hop great, Drake, one of the greatest talents the cold North has blessed us with is no other than Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. the Weeknd.  The R&B singer did little to project himself as a pop phenomenon early in his career, accumulating a following online while keeping his identity anonymous.  He first performed live in 2011, and since then has increasingly gained popularity in the United States.  His first album, originally three free mixtapes, was released in 2012 under the appropriate title, Trilogy, which was followed in 2013 by the less popular album Kiss Land.  It seemed the Weeknd was stuck with his devoted fan base and features on bigger artists’ tracks, until he released the out of nowhere pop sensation, “Earned It.”  This was the first track off of his third studio album, Beauty Behind the Madness, but at the time held its own on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack.  Abel followed up with the smash-hit, “I Can’t Feel My Face,” and the singer’s rise to mainstream popularity had begun.

Beauty Behind The Madness is not short of the explicit sexual actions and drug use references that the Weeknd has been known for, but that doesn’t keep his pop hits off the radio.  His most popular track, “I Can’t Feel My Face,” is in heavy rotation on pop music stations, despite Abel’s confession that the song is about the numbing and euphoric effects he feels while using cocaine, rather than a girl.  The track was #1 in the country not too long ago, according to Billboard.  While the song has been noted to sound like a Michael Jackson single, the most prominent homage to the King of Pop can be found further into the album.  One of my personal favorite songs from the album, “In the Night,” had me taken aback when I first listened to it.  I turned to my friend in the passenger seat of my car, who had requested I hand him the aux cord so that he could play said track, shocked that the same artist behind “Wicked Games” was the same one belting out MJ-style vocals that could have passed as the late singer.  Needless to say I was impressed.

All in all I’d consider Beauty Behind The Madness to be one of the most unique sounding projects of the year, and although it has already achieved massive mainstream success, there is no need to dismiss it as a cheesy pop album (looking at you, hipster Imagine Dragons fans).  The album is available on iTunes, Apple Music, and Spotify for streaming.  Some tracks I thought were most notable were “The Hills,” “In the Night,” and “Prisoner (feat. Lana Del Rey).”

You can listen to Andrew Mondays at 2:30 only on WIUN!

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Why Your Favorite Rappers Will Never Collaborate Together

by Andrew Katsiris

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Let’s stop acting like there will ever be another time when a group of three or more rappers, on separate labels, with their own unique skillset, will collaborate on a few tracks, ultimately releasing an album together.  Timbaland asked/trolled Twitter with the idea of a Drake/Kendrick/JCole collaboration album (queue the unrealistically hopeful, immature rap fans…).  With those three artists being some of the most influential in the hip-hop genre as of this moment, it’s a fantasy for fans of the three to someday witness history like that.

Why will this never happen?  To keep a long story short, because it would be trash.  Allow me to explain…

When two artists collaborate, be it on a single track or a full album, the two of them have to vibe together in a way that would show on wax, giving the track a unique sound that could only come from the joint effort of two artists.  If that vibe isn’t there, the track will not achieve what it set out to do.  How many times have you heard about a track by one rapper, featuring a completely different rapper?  It happens all the time, but every so often the track is expectedly awful.  Drake, JCole, and Kendrick would not vibe together in the slightest bit.  Let me break it down by artist: what they bring to the table, and how they’d mess it all up.

Drake, with his last project, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” and the events that followed, has made it clear he is not playing nice with the other boys on the playground; he isn’t taking competition lightly.  While “IYRTITL” did not lack the soft, singing Drake persona we listened to on “Nothing Was the Same,” there was the kind of Drake that wasn’t taking just punches and rolling with them, but returning the blow.  Who can forget the not-so-subtle Tyga diss, “you need to act your age and not your girl’s age?”  Twitter hasn’t forgotten it.  Tyga probably hasn’t, but I’m not about to listen to his (expectedly trash) mixtape trying to find a response track or lyric.   The fact is that although Drake considers Cole to be a brother of his, the vibe wouldn’t be there in the studio.  His OVO team would have a folder of beats lined up, and Cole wouldn’t be able to find an instrumental suiting his conscious lyrics, whereas Drake would do what he does best: essentially rapping about nothing but still sounding dope.

But why wouldn’t Kendrick and JCole vibe together?  Let’s not forget the infamous “Control” verse Kendrick wrote- the one that called out a multitude of rappers, including Drake and Cole.  Is Kendrick willing to set aside the competitive spirit he possesses, the same spirit influenced by west coast hip-hop legends that separates him from Drake’s competitive attitude?  Part of me says no, that JCole’s apparent lack of that spirit would not vibe properly.  Despite the fact that on “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Kendrick let everyone know that he was tired of people sitting in his throne, he also brought up the plight of the black community in America, a topic Cole touches on constantly.   So maybe the two of them will find some common ground with such an important topic.  But where does that leave Aubrey?

It’s no secret that Kendrick and Drake are “frenemies.”  Do they respect each other?  Drake probably does, but Kendrick is no stranger to calling out the Canadian; from his verse on “Control,” to the line about ghost writers from “King Kunta,” Kendrick has gotten his fan base used to the sneak dissing Drake.  After Meek Mill tried (and failed) to call out Drake for having a ghostwriter, the Toronto native does not stand where he used to in comparison to Kendrick and Cole, as far as lyrics are concerned.  But Drake has never been the one to rap about social issues, aside from problems with his ex, so what does that leave Drake to rap about?  How he’s the best to ever do it?  How his girl used to call him on his cell phone?  Does the former actor have any common ground with Kendrick and Cole, especially when they are all on the SAME track?

I say no, and given my reasoning behind it you should know I’m not just some kid who thinks it would be “lit” for the three rappers on one track.  After I first heard “Watch the Throne,” or even old Eminem/Dr. Dre tracks, I knew it was special but I couldn’t figure out why.  As it turns out, the reason these collaborations are so special is because two hip-hop artists having chemistry like Kanye and Jay-Z, or Eminem and Dre, is rare to find.  The fact is that Drake, Kendrick, and Cole simply don’t have that chemistry between the three of them.  So you can stop holding your breath, because the “legendary” collaboration is never happening.

Kanye West’s apparently leaked tracklist for “So Help me God”

Three tracks with Paul McCartney!  If you say so, Yeezy

1. “Wolves” (ft. Sia & Vic Mensa)

2. “Dancing on the Moon” (ft. Rihanna)

3. “All Day” (ft. Allan Kingdom)

4. “Cop Lights” (ft. Rihanna & Paul McCartney)

5. “One Throne” (ft. Jay Z & Bon Iver)

6. “Feel”

7. “Awesome” (ft. Kacy Hill)

8. “Listening” (ft. Drake & The Weeknd)

9. “Only One” (ft. Paul McCartney)

10. “Piss on Your Grave” (ft. Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson)

ALBUM REVIEW: Drake – “If You’re Reading This it’s too Late”

by Carla Gaviola
Drake's "If You're Reading This It's Too Late"

Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”

Drake, or as my friends and I affectionately call him: “Aubrey Jake”, is arguably one of the biggest and most influential MCs in the hip hop world right now—big enough that pulling a surprise drop of his latest “album” (he did post a Twitter picture: “Do you like my mixtape?) was enough to keep the internet buzzing for days and propel it to the number one position on the Billboard 200.
With his signature dark ambient production, meme-worthy (honestly? I am already shaking my head at myself for writing that, but it’s the only way to put it) lines such as “I–WAS–RUNNING–THROUGH–THE–SIX–WITH MY WOES!” from Know Yourself, offset with lyrics full of both self-awareness and take-downs of his record label and hip hop scene rivals, the 17-track mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is Drake at his peak braggadocio.
I listened to the release a few hours after it came out and once the initial hype of “New Drake!” died down, the experience felt somewhat stale as a whole. The album is definitely full of bangers from the reaffirmation of Drake’s status in “Energy” to the Madonna tribute appropriately titled “Madonna” (bet you didn’t see that coming), but the change of pace and flow that Drake does best isn’t best showcased in this mixtape: in a few songs, perhaps, such as the hazy collaboration with PARTYNEXTDOOR or the eerie cathedral ambiance of Star67. This isn’t a fault though, since it’s not actually a full-fledged album and is composed of mainly throwaway tracks—which is only testament to Drake’s talent in itself.
All in all, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is a decent enough release to tide us over before Drake drops his next album, and if the quality of this mixtape is in any way indicative of Drake’s next effort, let’s just say that it’s a prelude to something much, much bigger.
Standout tracks: Energy, Know Yourself, Star67, Now & Forever, Jungle
Find out more about Drake here!
And make sure you listen to Carla on WIUN Mondays at 1:00 PM CST!

ALBUM REVIEW: Big Sean–Dark Sky Paradise

by Andrew Katsiris

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I have never listened to a Big Sean album from beginning to end, nor have I ever purchased an album of his.  To be quite honest, I have only listened to Big Sean when he is featured on a track by Kanye West, Drake, etc.  That is, until “Dark Sky Paradise” was available for preorder on iTunes.  And I think it was worth preordering.

Granted, that’s not what I thought in the weeks leading up to the album’s release.  Initially, the only track available for download was the single by the name of “I Don’t F*** With You,” featuring E-40.  Right off the bat, I wasn’t happy with it, and for one reason: I cannot stand E-40.  When G-Eazy released his debut album, “These Things Happen,” one of my favorite songs (“Far Alone”) had an E-40 feature; in a nutshell, he ruined the song for me.  He threw down a verse on the first single off of “Dark Sky Paradise,” and ruined it as well.  Aside from the nonsense beat (a DJ Mustard signature), the song played its part well, as a post-breakup song for Sean’s male fan base.

His second single, “Blessings” featuring Drake, gave a hint that the album would address more mature topics than telling off one’s ex.  Drake drops a verse, as well as the hook on this song, which I thought was…decent. Not bad, but I could’ve been done better.  The track was met with positive reviews, and a second version was released by DJ Skee, with an additional Kanye West verse.  Although only 30 seconds, the Yeezy feature was praised by fans everywhere (I was not one of them).  The second version never found its way to the album, which in my eyes is not a total loss.  But after hearing the features in the first two singles, I was beginning to feel skeptical about the upcoming album.  However, I was worried for nothing.

While the act of releasing a single or two from your unreleased album to build hype for said project is not a method pioneered by Big Sean, it was a method he executed perfectly.  “I Don’t F*** With You” and “Blessings” are not the best tracks on the album, not by a long shot.  While they touched base with the childish, break-up topic and the cocky, “we’re better than you” topic, the album starts off on the right foot.  “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)” provides an introspective look into the life of Sean, with an instrumental that pulls the entire track together.  And it’s only the beginning.

Track 3 gives us the second collaboration between Big Sean and Kanye West, “All Your Fault.”  Hard drums, soul-style samples, Kanye singing the bridge, and an uplifting hook is what makes up the recipe for one of my favorite tracks on this album.  It works beautifully, and the third verse even has Sean and Kanye swapping lines, reminiscent of the Kanye West/Jay Z collaborative album, “Watch The Throne.”  I couldn’t help but want to listen to it again before moving on to the next track.

All in all, the album is a quality piece of work.   With features by Jhene Aiko, Ariana Grande, Lil Wayne, Drake, Kanye, and more, there is no shortage of talent.  Am I glad I pre-ordered “Dark Sky Paradise” on iTunes?  Absolutely.  Do I recommend it?  No question about it.

My favorite tracks (and in my mind, most noteworthy) were “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” “All Your Fault,” and “One Man Can Change the World.”

Find out more about Big Sean’s new album at his website!

And be sure you listen to Andrew Tuesdays at 1:00 PM on WIUN!

ALBUM REVIEW: Windmills — Broken Record

by Matt Sapita

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From Windmills’ Bandcamp

At first listen, Windmills’ “Broken Record” is an example of how polish can make an underground artist a contender against AAA artists. Looking closely, however, “Broken Record” becomes a truly notable up-and-comer: a combination fresh breath of air and throwback in a genre choked with juggernauts the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z.

Windmills is made up of Framework and Rex Ray, and together they’ve worked to create a cleanly cut and edited album, with a sound that reminds me of the golden age of hip-hop and R & B. “Regular Handshake,” “The Beach When it Rains,” and “Graffiti in the Night” have a level of honesty to their sounds that modern hip-hop too often confuses with confidence and ego. For the most part, Windmills seems to have found the right level of complexity to their beats, mixing in guitar and saxophone enough to be complimentary to Framework’s vocals, rather than distracting.

That being said: the primary issues with “Broken Record” are the lyrics throughout. Framework’s flow is respectable, as is much of the content, but sometimes it can be lacking. Many of the songs chorus’ are fairly weak, and towards the end of “Regular Handshake” and “Bring Out the Sun” I found the level of repetition off-putting. Worse, though, I found my eyes rolling at “Underground Gem’s” call to “spread love.” Lyrics such as these bring to mind artists such as Twenty-One Pilots and their awkwardly PG lyrics, and feel out of place compared to the rest of the tracks. The final, and most disappointing aspects of “Broken Record,” are Rex Ray’s back up vocals. His voice often comes off as droning and out-of-place, a style best left back in the age of Biggie.

Over all, Windmills second album is definitely worth a listen, bringing an honesty and originality that modern hip-hop could sorely use. “Broken Record” promises a strong future for Framework and Rex Ray: one that I hope is realized.

Notable Tracks – “Regular Handshake” “The Beach When it Rains”

Find out more about Windmills’ new album here!

And listen to Matt on WIUN Thursdays at 7:00 PM CST!

Iceage – “Plowing Into the Field of Love” Album Review

by Carla Gaviola

Iceage – “Plowing Into the Field of Love”

The music of the Danish punk band Iceage is typically lumped more into that classic punk sound evocative of bands such as Refused, frantic and fierce. However, their latest effort, Plowing Into the Field of Love (even the title itself is a radical departure!) works to shatter all of those previous notions about the band and serve as a landmark for the young band’s continuous evolution.
The opening track, On My Fingers, provides an excellent “amuse-bouche”, if you may, of what is about to come for the next 50 minutes: set on a backdrop of pianos and crashing cymbals that provide a sense of grandeur, vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt does his best Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds impression for a track that stretches up to 5 minutes—definitely another stark contrast from their previous releases comprised of fast-paced aggression, with their track lengths ranging from about a minute to two.
This aforementioned Bad Seeds influence is something which I felt permeated throughout the entire album, giving it a foreboding aura. The album’s tone is of dichotomies: comic yet dark, lush yet bleak. The track “Let It Vanish” with its galloping drums and guitars that you could almost picture in a Spaghetti Western standoff, and the lyrical content which has expanded with Iceage’s sonic palette, with subjects ranging from self-loathing to a story about a father and a son, to “The Lord’s Favorite” featuring Dionysian ecstasy and strippers immersed in metaphors. In a way, Plowing Into the Field of Love may polarize previous listeners of the band who fell in love with Iceage’s sense of urgency which seemed to bludgeon.
Their latest effort concentrates more on dynamics and control, building up and falling with tracks almost bordering on cinematic with their rich instrumentation featuring pianos, violas, even a horn section. However, I believe that this is just a mark of Iceage growing up and like an adolescent emerging from their “angsty” phase, it’s an exciting, although somewhat confusing, thing to behold.
Standout tracks: The Lord’s Favorite, Glassy Eyed Dormant and Veiled, Abundant Living, Against the Moon
Find out more about Iceage right here!
And listen to Carla Thursdays at 12:30 PM CST only on WIUN!