Review: ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ by The Velvet Underground and Nico

Peel slowly and see.

These four words can be found on the original vinyl copies of The Velvet Underground & Nico, intended to instruct the listener to slowly remove the banana peel sticker on the cover to reveal the soft fruit underneath. It also, as it would turn out, somewhat predicted the reception of the album itself, which was initially met with an uninspiring and bewildered response due to its shrill experimental instrumentation and lurid subject matter.

However, following the critical acclaim of the band’s self-titled third album and the general commercial success of front man Lou Reed’s solo career, music critics began to reevaluate The Velvet Underground’s debut record (and, to a lesser extent, their sophomore album White Light/White Heat) and retroactively hailed it as a masterpiece. Fifty years later, The Velvet Underground & Nico remains both a turning point in rock music history and a profoundly insightful account of ‘60s drug culture.

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Review: ‘Divide’ by Ed Sheeran

Back in 2014, BBC Radio 1Xtra rightfully earned flack for its list of the twenty most powerful entertainers in the UK’s urban music scene, on which Ed Sheeran held the number one spot. The most attentive listeners of Sheeran’s may recognize Sheeran’s Saltine cracker jams to be anything but urban, and in fact, this seemed like Sheeran’s whole selling point: he’s an inoffensive presence whose Hallmark tales of love and heartbreak are just generic enough to be identifiable to the lowest comment denominator. Someone, at some point, however, decided that if Sheeran wasn’t lovingly accepted by all as a representative of Black music coming from the UK, he would be in short time. That can be the only explanation as to why Sheeran decided to rap as much as he does on Divide, his third studio album—and the worst part is, Sheeran’s embarrassing brand of “fish n’ chip”-hop is far from the only problem with this record.

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Review: ‘Drunk’ by Thundercat

You’ve heard Stephen Bruner, stage name Thundercat, even if you’ve never heard of him. The Los Angeles-born bass guitarist extraordinaire has long played a background role in hip-hop, having appeared in recent years on Mac Miller’s GO:OD AM, Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, and the latest two projects from Kendrick Lamar. He’s a moldable presence capable of adapting to a stylistically diverse soundscape, even serving as the bass player of crossover thrash group Suicidal Tendencies for a number of years. On Drunk, his third studio album, Bruner displays a masterful flexibility of tone, even if he occasionally veers into sonic homogeny.

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Review: ‘Prisoner’ by Ryan Adams

It was fitting that Ryan Adams’s previous full-length album was a front-to-back cover of Taylor Swift’s award-winning 1989. Both artists have made careers out of amplifying their intimate stories into anthems while retaining the specificity of their songwriting—Adams, at the time, was going through a divorce with his then-wife Mandy Moore, and Swift’s tales of structurally-unsound young love translated well to weariness, Adams’s degradation of relationship reflected in the somber acoustic guitars comprising much of the album.

It’s a principle that hasn’t waned, despite the more uniformly electric soundscape occupying Prisoner. From the outset, Prisoner proves to be a way’s away from his 2000 debut solo album Heartbreaker, a Nashville purist’s wildest fantasy, but Adams even deviates from his bluesy 2014 self-titled album, the last original material we’d heard from him. It’s almost as if he needed 1989 as a middle ground to metamorphose, its pop sensibilities transforming him into a full-fledged heartland rocker. The sun-drenched organs and guitars of the opener, “Do You Still Love Me?,” evoke Bruce Springsteen in the late ‘80s, and on “Doomsday,” his declarations that “My love, we can do better than this” soar over crashing acoustic guitar riffs. On the whole, Prisoner isn’t too far off from a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record, but its larger-than-life sound and raw sense of emotional turbulence fit the kind of grand arena orchestration that defined acts like Springsteen and Petty thirty years ago.

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Review: ‘I Decided’ by Big Sean

“Throughout my life, I always felt like I got a second chance at everything somehow,” Big Sean told Trevor Noah on The Daily Show late last month. Second chances and the process of reinvention have always marked the Detroit rapper’s career. Long gone are the days of strip club anthems set to MC Hammer samples; two years ago, Sean took a plunge into the moody, inky Dark Sky Paradise, his most ambitious project to date, while I Decided offers the most sonic diversity of his career. But as admirable as Big Sean’s penchant for rediscovery is, it’s only extended as far as the instrumental spaces he inhabits. I Decided still suffers from the same problem that every other Big Sean album does: Big Sean himself.

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Review: ‘Culture’ by Migos

“And I really wanna thank the Migos—not for being in the show—but for making ‘Bad and Boujee.’ Like, that’s the best song ever.”

Donald Glover isn’t the only one to think so. Despite seeing relative success with singles in the past like “Versace” and “Fight Night,” Migos really hit their stride with “Bad and Boujee,” which went on to peak at number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 last week. The group became largely known in 2013 for their “Versace flow”—rapping in taut triplets—which influenced the likes of Drake, Future, and even Kanye West. Although they didn’t invent triplet flow, their usurpation of the technique became the cornerstone of their sound, members Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff’s burst-fire delivery tap dancing atop trap hi-hat percussion and chilly synthesizers. It’s perfectly acceptable that Culture makes no attempt to sound wildly different than its contemporaries, because it’s ultimately a satisfying affirmation that Migos has fully mastered its musical lexicon.

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Top 10 Singles of 2016

Repeat to yourself: My music will get me through the next four years. My music will get me through the next four years. My music will get me through the next four years. Here are ten great songs from last year. Maybe one of them will get you through the next four years.

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Top 25 Albums of 2016

If music is as therapeutic to me as it is to everyone else, then 2016 gave music a new level of importance in all of our lives. It was a bad year, but at least we got some great albums out of it. Here are my favorite albums of 2016.

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Capsule Reviews: December 2016

I, like many others, had a pretty gloomy 2016. I’m glad to be rid of it, but musically, the year put up quite the fight in its final month. As an owner of two ears, I can rightly exclaim my disappointment with four of the five following albums

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Review: ‘Awaken, My Love!’ by Childish Gambino

It was the late, great film critic Roger Ebert who argued that the underlying thesis of film criticism is rooted in the notion that “movies are not about their stories, they’re about how they’re about their stories.” Form and structure, mood and atmosphere—not just what an artist says, but how they say it—go beyond the craft of cinema. For the first two albums released under his Childish Gambino moniker, Donald Glover’s focus on these elements was scant, largely because, at the time, Glover had been using Childish Gambino as a means of expanding his stand-up sensibilities to hip-hop. Glover lives and breathes in multiple artistic realms—as a musician, as a comedian, as a television writer, and as an actor—but, at any given point in time, one can take a lateral view of his career and observe commonalities across those realms. It’s partly why albums Camp and Because the Internet are so wildly inconsistent; Glover brandishes the brash swagger of a more seasoned emcee, but punchlines like “Got no patience, cause I’m not a doctor” and “Girl why is you lyin’, girl why you Mufasa” exhibit some of the frustrations that come with translating comedy into hip-hop music. Glover having littered most of his early music with these gems, it’s difficult to tell exactly what his own underlying thesis is, because it often amounts to little more than trial and error in the service of a chuckle.

But 2016 brought us the FX series Atlanta, and with it, Glover demonstrated a much more abstract approach to comedy. Atlanta is remarkably nonverbal in its humor, concentrating instead on the frame through which the humor is shown. The “B.A.N.” episode—modeled after a fake BET talk show with parody commercials—is sharp in its content, but even sharper in its structural conceit. “Awaken, My Love!” actualizes the lessons learned from Atlanta and features Glover at his most passionate and expressive, all without a single rap verse across its eleven tracks.

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