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
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
The release of Syro was heralded in the most ‘Aphex Twin’-est way possible: by a blimp featuring the Aphex Twin logo and the year 2014 floating over London last August, as well as graffiti scattered all over New York City and the album’s tracklist hidden in the deep web. It has been 13 years since the prolific electronic musician Richard D. James released his last full-length album, Drukqs, and Syro marks another milestone in the evolution of the Aphex Twin sound.
The beauty about Aphex Twin is that the music sounds like nothing else, but it still retains the trademark Richard D. James touch–whatever that is—that keeps it engrossing despite being something that almost seems alien. However, Syro, in comparison to his other works, appears as something more palatable and accessible, almost something that you can hear playing in your car radio (albeit maybe in a more underground music sort of station?). This could possibly be attributed in part to James’ family who provided edited vocal tracks in songs such as CIRCLONT14 and XMAS_EVET10.
The tracks may seem disjointed and chaotic, not following a single theme and seeming like merely a collection of songs tied up only by the sublimity of their arrangements, from the glitch-hop dance-floor friendly minipops 67 [120.2] to an almost jazzy electronic produk_29, to the jungle music of PAPAT4. The album ends with a characteristic uncharacteristic somber piano piece in the vein of Avril 14th with the warm Aisatsana, providing a fitting end to one of the best albums of the year as well as the beginning to the next metamorphosis of the Aphex Twin sound.
One can’t really only listen to Syro once, for each repeated listen unveils so many more intricate details, from a rubber duck to an out of tune piano, lying beneath the cacophony.