Review: ‘Colors’ by Beck

Much like the chocolate boxes of Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re going to get when it comes to Beck (unlike chocolate boxes in real life, which are clearly labeled). He’s a tough artist to pin down: a rapper, an Americana singer, a low-key alternative rocker. Beck doesn’t so much think outside the box as he just lives outside it, and it’s made his career an exciting one to follow. Beck’s previous album, Morning Phase, found harmony between understated acoustic guitar plucks and the uneasy ambiance of soaring strings. All in all, the 2014 album stood out as one of Beck’s finest achievements, which created an ineludible disadvantage for this year’s follow-up Colors.

In contrast to Morning Phase, Colors is exuberant and rejuvenative. Consider Beck’s career at the time—2008’s Modern Guilt officially fulfilled Beck’s record contract with Interscope Records, and he would remain without a record label for nearly seven years. Morning Phase, released under Capitol Records, was Beck’s triumphant return to the music scene, and the large-scale success of the album (including a Grammy win for Album of the Year) kickstarted a second phase of Beck’s career.

“There was a very strong positive feeling that was happening while we were making [Colors], this renewed appreciation and affection for playing music,” Beck told NME earlier this month. And renewed he sounds, with sprightly warmth and buoyant spirit nestled in his vocal chords, a far cry from the unflappable slacker messiah of the ‘90s. Colors is, first and foremost, a splashy dance rock record, something Beck has never really done before. But unlike most of his albums, what’s fresh for Beck isn’t necessarily fresh overall; Colors is catchy and glossy, but it gets by far more on Beck’s talents as a performer than a songwriter.

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Review: ‘The Clash’ by The Clash

Co-written by Rob Piersall.

For as influential to the genre as they were, The Clash didn’t spend much time as a pureblooded punk band. With the 1979 release of London Calling, the band began a transition away from the jagged purist punk aesthetic to a fuller, more polished sound with broader appeal; by the time Sandinista! and Combat Rock rolled around in 1980 and 1982, respectively, The Clash had gone fully “mainstream.” It was in this era that they released some of their most popular songs—including “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go”—but despite their peak commerciality in the ‘80s, it was in the year 1977 that the band made its biggest impact of all with their self-titled debut album.

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Review: ‘Damn’ by Kendrick Lamar

“I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA / I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA.” In “DNA,” Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar establishes the central thematic through line of his new album, or, more accurately, confesses that no such single through line actually exists. Damn lacks the driving narrative force of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and the political consequence of To Pimp a Butterfly, but that doesn’t mean it lacks purpose or emotional potency. Lamar has a lot to say, and unlike his past two studio albums, he doesn’t use a storytelling device to say it. After two critically-acclaimed concept albums, it may be tough to swallow Lamar’s return to a more standard album format (i.e. 2011’s Section.80), as it was initially for me. However, Lamar remains as deceptively dense as ever in how he balances vocal delivery and lyrical content, crafting songs that are as poetically meaningful as they are sonically enjoyable.

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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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Review: ‘Anti’ by Rihanna

It’s hard to believe it’s been over ten years since Rihanna first burst onto the mainstream music scene with “Pon de Replay,” a slick, punchy dance anthem that seemed to nestle itself into the set lists of every Top 40 radio station in America. “Pon de Replay” was generic, but harmless, and in the following decade, Rihanna managed to find her unique sound over the course of six more platinum-selling albums, asserting herself as music’s number one alpha female. It’s been a little over three years since Rihanna’s last album, and while that doesn’t seem like a huge amount of time, it’s important to keep in mind that the Barbadian pop star has never allowed more than two years to pass between releases. Anti, her seventh album, brings with it a lot of hype as a result. That Anti is Rihanna’s least-mainstream release yet may explain the lengthened time gap, but unfortunately, the quality does not: this is Rihanna’s weakest effort yet.

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A Love Letter to THE BABADOOK

Last night, after countless weeks of putting it off, I finally sat down and watched The Babadook with my brother. Both of us were itching for a good horror film, and of the last two we watched, Rosemary’s Baby turned out to be more of a drama with some horror elements, and 13/13/13 was just flat-out hilarious (we sort of expected that with the latter). Generally, the modern horror movies that I enjoy the most are the ones that are darkly comedic, like You’re Next or the Final Destination films, which are more fun than outright scary. The ones that go the more straightforward route are often ugly, cheap, and lazily thrown together. Such is not the case with The Babadook. Within the first ten to fifteen minutes, my brother and I were simultaneously captivated and anxiety-ridden.

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