Future’s mercilessly AutoTuned voice is one of mainstream rap’s most omnipresent. The guy’s built a pop empire by cannily anticipating and then mining the fertile nexus of nearly every on-trend sound enjoying its fifteen minutes on urban radio. The question Future loves to pose is: Why listen to marquee names (think Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, the Weeknd, or Drake) when you can listen to another marquee name that sounds like all those artists, all at once, without scanning as excessively derivative?
On Honest, his latest full-length, Future sells a fashionably high-gloss take on everything from bombastic braggadocio to moody R&B emoting, playing a broad field when a line like Drake’s “Always money on my mind” (from “Never Satisfied”) can ring as stone-cold tough one minute and self-pityingly harrowing the next. Unfortunately, Honest’s downsides come in the form of album-wide issues rather than minor missteps: it just generally lacks the tremendous force of 2012’s game-changing Pluto or even last year’s Ciara collaboration “Body Party,” and the AutoTune-everything-all-the-time approach has dated about as well for Future as it has for T-Pain.
Most disappointing is that for a record by a guy called Future who’s been known for boldly tiptoeing along the cutting edge of pop radio, Honest is a good deal more middle-of-the-pack for a post-Yeezus 2014 than its creator wants to admit. The most striking moments come from Future’s bona fide superstar guests rather than his own songwriting or even his producers: nice of Kanye to show up and casually lay waste to magnificent tearjerker “I Won,” and “Benz Friendz (Watchutola)” exists solely to prove Andre 3000’s still got all the wit, charm, charisma, and weirdness of prime-era OutKast. Still, there’s no faulting Honest for being one hell of a good time from start to finish. C+ [Samuel Tolzmann]
Fear of Men, Loom
There’s frailty in Fear of Men’s music. Much of that is thanks to singer Jessica Weiss. She has a naturally melancholic voice, and from the opening line of her band’s debut album Loom, she doesn’t break character: “Baby, sleep with me now/Baby, you’re my only friend.” Weiss’ darker impulses are readily on display, but also dampened by persistently eddying, sepia-toned textures that blossom from out of the gloom – think a downplayed Allo Darlin’ or a moodier Pains of Being Pure At Heart.
If Loom is a little uniform, it’s also unified, and intelligently so. The topics of regret, renewal, fear and solitude run like a current throughout the album, quelled in places, reaching rousing velocities in others, as on “Waterfall” and “Descent”. Fear of Men have arrived with a storybook in hand, one detailing personal pain with vivid, gentle clarity that should elevate it above any accusations of coyness. B [Brendan Frank]
TEEN, The Way and Color
You get the sense that prog-pop outfit TEEN aren’t the types to bring maps on road trips. Much like their debut album, their sophomore effort is the musical equivalent of the scenic route. The difference is that unlike the often unfocused and meandering In Limbo, The Way and Color has improved on the backdrop. Sisters Lizzie, Katherine and Kristina “Teeny” Lieberson are executing the masses of ideas they have stacked within their brains with a higher ratio. They’re bolder and more attentive with their compositions, the melodies are more gripping, the harmonies richer. In one fell swoop, TEEN have established a favourable trajectory for themselves, and dropped a few outstanding tunes along the way.
The one thing the quartet (Boshra AlSaadi is a newcomer on bass) haven’t quite figured out is editing. Highlights “Rose 4 U” and lead single “Not For Long” use multi-part structures with tempo and key-shifts to justify their runtimes while also providing some thought-provoking fodder on the nature of anonymity and self-actualization. The plodding “Breathe Low & Deep” and tacked-on closer “All the Same” are simply overlong. The buoyant “Tied Up, Tied Down” displays an astute pop sensibility, and seems to suggest that the more they tighten up, the better they’ll get. There’s good reason to think that some of the more middling fare on The Way and Color is no more than growing pains. B- [Brendan Frank]
Yuck, Southern Skies
A short flashback to late September 2013: Yuck unveils its first new album following founding vocalist Daniel Blumberg’s departure and the listening public unleashes a mighty shrug. Glow & Behold was, to put it mildly, a painfully long coach trip to Dullsville, Brit Pop. Gone were the low-fi screeches and grungy guitars of their self-titled debut. In their place were the mellow, soothing sounds of a suddenly generic band producing the kind of forgettable late 90s shoegaze-y dreck that left the band’s most devout fans scratching their heads … at least those who managed to stay awake until the end of the album.
Perhaps in an effort to find it’s footing before hitting the summer festival circuit, Yuck has unleashed Southern Skies, a 4-song EP that dramatically improves upon the band’s updated formula. Lead track, “Athena”, is a dreamy song that manages to employ both a lilting, memorable chorus and an electric guitar bridge, elements that were sorely missing from Glow & Behold. “Southern Skies” washes away the gritty, filtered dreaminess in favor of a crisp, lucid sound that suits Yuck better than the grainy production featured on the EP’s other tracks.
Most surprising is “Another One”, which sounds like an updated take on the band’s most notable single, “The Wall”. It layers Max Bloom’s washed out, mumbly vocals over a blanket of distorted, wailing, garage guitar. It’s the middle point between old Yuck and the new iteration, and it holds musical promise that some (myself included) thought impossible. Only “Set In Motion” truly disappoints, in large part because Bloom cedes vocal duties to relative unknown Sebastian Fors – a glaring error for a group trying to redefine its voice. None of it is groundbreaking or even great, but Southern Skies is the aural equivalent of a lifeboat for a band that was nearly sunk. B- [Matthew M. F. Miller]