Album Review: Knox Fortune – Paradise

By Ryan Martin (@RyanMartin182)rating 4

You might recognize Knox Fortune from the smash single off Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book last year. He’s a wildly talented producer who works closely with Chicago artists like Joey Purp, Vic Mensa and KAMI. Finally, Knox has a project of his own to demonstrate his talent to the world.

Knox’s star-studded track record has fostered high expectations for Paradise, leaving little doubt that Knox might be able to pull out a couple marketable singles and really make a name for himself as an up-and-coming indie R&B/Pop artist. Paradise doesn’t play consistently from front to back, though. Starting with an all too brief intro and an infectiously quick drumbeat as the backbone, No Dancing does little to set the stage of what to expect with Paradise. Lil Thing follows it up and shows Knox at his best. The beat sounds like pink skies on a late summer evening. His voice is smooth, with a catchy hook and creative instrumentals. If there’s some potential to be recognized throughout this project, it’s right here.

Throughout Paradise, Knox stumbles finding not only his sound but his voice too. Knox’s voice is pitched, auto-tuned and lowered throughout the album, leaving the listener unable to pinpoint exactly who he is as an artist. Torture, one of Paradise’s four singles, shows this with distressing conclusions. Knox’s voice is so auto-tuned it clutters the track, not clearing a path for the otherwise beautiful instrumentals. It almost creates an amateurish atmosphere for the track.

Knox is a talented producer, creating some really interesting instrumentals throughout Paradise. 24 Hours is a great example, a number whose bouncy, sticky bass dominates the entire track. Unfortunately, there isn’t a strong hook and Knox’s vocals are again an issue, sounding careless and slightly distorted.

Not only does the Chicago artist’s inconsistency lie with his vocals and hooks throughout Paradise, the overall tone is confusing. No Dancing doesn’t give the listener enough time to settle into the groove: Stars and Lil Thing sound like woozy daydreams, a sound Knox actually seems at home on, and I Don’t Wanna Talk About It is reminiscent of a dance-punk song from the ’80s.

Bouncing recklessly between tone and sounds, by the end of the Paradise the listener doesn’t feel closer to understanding who exactly Knox Fortune is. It’s one of the few pop albums in recent memory where the instrumentals play a bigger role than the vocals do. This is not to say Knox doesn’t have a decent voice, but the effects he puts on his vocals will make you think otherwise.

Knox Fortune is an artist who has an incredible amount of potential and has already proven he can make hits. Unfortunately, Paradise is a clear indicator that more time is needed to craft a specific sound and voice for the pop star he desires to be.

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Ranking the Tracks from Frank Ocean’s blonded RADIO

By Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

When fans and critics were predicting who this year’s most prolific artists would be, you would’ve been hard pressed to find anyone willing to throw Frank Ocean’s name into the hat. The New Orleans crooner is known to be an enigma or even a full-on reclusive, depending on who you ask. After making fans wait an agonising four years for a follow-up to the acclaimed Channel Orange, he released visual album Endless and “main” album Blonde in 2016, so all smart bets were on more radio silence from Ocean.

However, this couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of radio silence Ocean gave fans blonded RADIO, a show that appeared sporadically on Apple Music’s Beats 1 at very short notice. On this show, the R&B superstar would debut one-off singles, which he would play alongside some of his favourite tracks. Apparently this wasn’t enough for the newly restless Ocean, who also played a handful of festivals in summer 2017. Unfortunately, at Ontario’s WayHome festival, he appeared to confirm that the now-aired blonded 007 would be the last in his blonded RADIO series. As ever with the maverick songwriter, we can never be 100% certain that blonded is no more but for now it looks like his hot streak is over, so this feels like an appropriate time to rank the show’s offerings.

Quick disclaimer: this list will only include tracks which were played on blonded RADIO. Ocean also appeared on 2 tracks from Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy and on Jay-Z’s Caught Their Eyes in 2017, but these will not be included in the list.

  1. RAF – ASAP Rocky ft. Quavo, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert and Frank Ocean

This was a strange track for Ocean to appear on. There is nothing “wrong” with this song as such, the beat is great, the hook is catchy and every guest verse is enjoyable. However, RAF is just a posse rap track and the lyrical subjects rarely veer from fashion and women. With the emotional depth Ocean’s songwriting usually contains, especially post-Blonde, it was strange to see him appear on this track alongside the likes of Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert. Still, Ocean’s delivery is so good that he still manages to shine, it’s just odd to hear him in this vein – especially when Ocean has proved he can produce “bangers” with more lyrical complexity and depth.

  1. Slide – Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean and Migos

Who would have predicted Frank Ocean would have had song of the summer? On the lead single from Calvin Harris’ Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, he staked a claim for exactly that. This is credited as Harris’ track but Ocean really steals the show as he jams Slide full of his own trademarks, such as the pitched-up vocals that appeared all over Blonde as well as one of his favourite lyrical themes – materialism. Ocean shows real chemistry with two-thirds of Migos and even references his magnum opus, all on top of one of the most tropical instrumentals pop has heard in recent years.

  1. Lens – Frank Ocean

The first solo track to appear on this list, Lens might be the biggest risk Ocean has ever taken on a track. The minimal keyboard that carries this track seems to evoke Blonde’s Good Guy interlude meaning, as ever, Ocean’s vocals are front and centre. The vocals in Lens seem to be massively Kanye inspired as Frank’s voice is dripping in auto-tune, which is certainly an interesting concept for Ocean to experiment with. While it would be harsh to call this a massive flop, it seems unnecessary for Frank to use so much autotune especially knowing how gorgeous his vocals are. The fragile lyricism of the track may have been better suited to his natural voice.

  1. Slide on Me – Frank Ocean ft. Young Thug

While not strictly a new track, one of the biggest surprises from blonded RADIO came when Ocean debuted a new version of Endless highlight Slide on Me, featuring none other than Young Thug. The track itself is a gorgeous ballad where Ocean’s delivery falls somewhere between singing and rapping in an ode to a partner in a tumultuous on-off relationship. Not known for lyrical depth, Young Thug may seem like a strange addition to this track but his divisive delivery suits this track perfectly – his voice conveys more than enough fragility to compliment Slide on Me’s atmosphere beautifully. While this collaboration could have understandably raised some eyebrows, it has proved another Ocean masterstroke as Young Thug may even have enhanced this track from its Endless iteration.

  1. Biking – Frank Ocean ft. JAY Z and Tyler, the Creator

Arguably the track with the strongest feature list in Frank Ocean’s discography so far, Biking is another track which is built on acoustic guitar, although this has far more of a hip-hop feel. On this non-linear track, Ocean’s verse is sandwiched between what must be called a disappointing Jay Z feature and a verse from Tyler which more than gives Frank’s a run for its money. Lyrically, all 3 artists approach cycling – or Biking – in different forms which Tyler and Frank manage to pull off; however, Jay Z’s verse just feels so surface level. Perhaps the best part of the track comes after Tyler’s verse when Ocean mimics Young Thug’s off-kilter flow and ends the track on a bang.

  1. Provider – Frank Ocean

The last ever blonded RADIO track?  If so, what a send-off. Provider is a chameleon of a track, constantly changing genre and structure right under the listener’s nose. It starts in the same vein as Lens with a minimal keyboard sound while a soothing drum machine soon takes centre stage for the chorus, fading as soon as it appears and leaving little more than Frank’s voice – featuring autotune but in a far subtler way than Lens. Ocean namedrops his boyfriend on Provider,and it certainly feels like his most romantic track, dedicating the chorus to, “feelings you provide” before declaring, “tonight I might change my life / all for you”.

  1. Chanel – Frank Ocean

As it was the first track to be debuted on blonded RADIO, it would be easy to assume Chanel has only gained the #1 spot due to how much of a shock it was; however, this track more than speaks for itself. Chanel features a perfect combination of Ocean’s rapping and singing, and both are on top form. Not to mention this is the track where Ocean has most blatantly paraded his sexuality, with the mic-drop of the opening couplet, “my guy pretty like a girl / and he got fight stories to tell” before flipping hip-hop’s materialistic obsession with designer brands on its head, using the iconic Chanel logo as a metaphor for his bisexuality and duality (“I see both sides like Chanel”) on possibly the catchiest and most iconic hook Frank Ocean has penned so far.

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Album Review: Tyler The Creator – Flower Boy

By Ryan Martin (@RyanMartin182)

For Tyler, The CreatorFlower Boy has been a long time coming. The former Odd Future leader’s discography is a rocky one if you’re not a part of his loyal fanbase. Tyler’s most recent albums bounce around without ever landing on a cohesive sound or theme, leaving them often sounding cluttered or unfinished.

While his first two albums displayed the angsty, hardcore and often violent side of Tyler that brought himself and Odd Future so much media attention in the turn of the decade, Wolf, released in 2013, began showing a side of Tyler unknown to the world previously. Tracks like Answer and Treehome95 sounded less bitter and miles sweeter, with themes of longing backed by jazzy production. Tyler dabbled with these sounds through his next effort, Cherry Bomb, but again fell short with cluttered directions and sounds, this time with a decrease in production and much less memorable hooks. 

Flower Boy has taken those ideas that he previously dabbled with and perfected that vision. The aggressiveness of Goblin and the brash production of Cherry Bomb has disappeared, as has the wall of angst that Tyler put up to protect his vulnerability. Flower Boy finds the influential artist revealing himself lyrically and production-wise at his very best.

The songs are more sticky, grand, lush, and gorgeous. Tracks like See You Again and Boredom demonstrate this perfectly. The hooks are incredibly catchy and backed by some of the best instrumentals Tyler has made in his discography. Lyrically, Tyler is confessional, as he spits impressive bars about his recent disinterest in his friends, his fears, his sexuality and paints a picture of who he truly is behind the brash personality the media has displayed him as for the past 7 years. The centerpiece of the album, Garden Shed shows some of Tyler’s most open lyrics he’s released thus far.

“Garden shed, garden shed, garden shed, garden shed / For the garden / That is where I was hidin’ / That is what love I was I in / Ain’t no reason to pretend”

Fans speculated Tyler used a Garden Shed as a representation of “coming out of the closet” and thus addressing his sexuality up front.

Image result for tyler the creator flower boy

Other tracks like 911 / Mr. Lonely expand on the idea of loneliness Tyler has explored in previous releases with an outstanding turnout. 911 begins the track as an infectious soul single with help from Frank Ocean. The beat is upbeat, infectious and fun with lyrics that focus on the dark realities of not having a companion and feeling alone. Towards the end of the track, the drums increase and Tyler speeds up his flow and drops an incredible verse sticking on the same theme of loneliness. It’s one of the most cohesive songs he has ever written.

Glitter is another infectious track and features the Ladera Heights rapper crooning through the hook and a Pharrell inspired synthesizer leading the main harmonies. With themes of Tyler’s sexuality intertwining throughout Flower BoyGlitter has a vibe that is directed more towards the open sexuality Tyler expresses.

While Flower Boy follows a direction more lush than aggressive, there are only a few handful of bangers on the album that are reminiscent of Tyler’s earlier work. Who Dat Boy, featuring A$AP Rocky is one of the best singles of the year and has a sticky hook and impressive verses from both leaders of Odd Future and A$AP Mob. Well worth the wait for those who have been waiting for more from the duo since their collabs on What The Fuck Right Now and Telephone Calls. Ain’t Got Time! is a braggadocios banger that has head-turning lyrics like “Next line will have ’em like ‘Woah’ / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” & “Four, five, six years ago sucked / Seven figure conversations with Converse finalized / ‘Cause Vans fucked up”.

It seems that Tyler’s previous work has had controversial lyrics with no deeper meaning other than to stir the pot and agitate the media. Flower Boy’s lyrics seem confessional and important, as Wolf Haley ditches shocking for something with a little more substance. Flower Boy is without a doubt the best album the Golf Wang designer has put out so far, with consistent lyrics, production, and themes throughout the 46-minute duration. The features are impressive and demonstrate Okonma’s ear for singers and production that would best suit them. 

Flower Boy doesn’t dive so deep from Tyler that it would turn off fans either. The album is so unapologetically him for those who have been following him since his breakout in 2010, just a side that hasn’t been so exposed until this point in time. If you were turned off by Tyler’s music from Goblin in 2011, Scum Fuck Flower Boy urges you to take another chance on one of the brightest and influential stars in hip-hop now.

8/10


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ALBUM REVIEW: SZA – Ctrl

By Will Sexton (@willshesleeps)

Love fuelled, compassionate and confident. Raw, intimate and erotic. SZA’s new album Ctrl contains all of the above, and it’s one hell of a listen.

Ctrl is the first piece of music many will have heard from SZA, considering it’s her debut, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The album starts off with the very mellow, slow paced ballad Supermodel: right from the start, you’ll get a taste of one of the best things about the album which is the instrumentation. More than half of Supermodel contains no drums and is mainly heavily edited electric guitar and a small taste of bass guitar. SZA singing over the top about an ex-boyfriend who did her wrong and sings about insecurities in herself and admits to sleeping with his best friend because he “purposely broke up with her on Valentines day”. 

The songs to follow continue with this indulgent and almost therapeutic nature where SZA is singing about past lovers and people who have done her wrong. The next song Love Galore feat. Travis Scott is an empowering song where the lyrics are about putting yourself first and “all you need is love” which can be interpreted as all types of love, not just relationships or sex but then also talks about how she is the side-chick on a lot of the songs in the first half of the album. Ctrl has two ends of the emotional spectrum, a lush and intense sexual side to it but can also be at times sad and emotional.

One of the highlight tracks has to be Doves In the Wind feat. Kendrick Lamar which is a song “entirely dedicated to vaginas” (the word pussy is said 28 times) and how there is so much more to a relationship and/or life than sex. A lot of the singing from SZA on this song has a nice flow and an interesting melody and again the instrumentation on this song is gorgeous.

An interesting use of distortion and noise would be on the song Anything where the song starts with a sharp distorted punch and continues throughout the song and it shows that SZA had a confidence with trying new things and using fun new techniques, and even down to how the claps/stamps are mixed at the end make this album an interesting listen.

Three other songs worth shouting out includes The Weekend due to the synth opening and alluring nature, the song Prom with its dreamy mixing as well as its angelic vocals and the rather minimalist Wavy (Interlude) feat. Jame Fauntleroy showing that you don’t need layers to show off SZA’s gorgeous voice.

However, CTRL’s absolute gem is Drew Barrymore. With guitar similar to the opening track and a chilled out and sombre vibe, SZA sings about low self-esteem and the expectations that are placed on her as a woman. She feels the need to have to apologise for “not being attractive enough, for not shaving her legs at night and being too clingy”. She also questions whether the person loves her or loves sleeping with her and asks then whether she is “warm enough on the outside” for them, referring to appearance and also “warm enough on the inside” being a sexual innuendo. Being able to address all of this in one song effortlessly is why it’s my favourite. It’s an anthem for the self-conscious.

One of the best RnB albums of the year so far, CTRL really throws SZA’s name into the stratosphere. Some songs may not gel with you right away but there are plenty of standout tracks that appear on this LP which will redeem that. If SZA wasn’t on your radar before now then she sure as hell is now.

8/10


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