THE BREAKDOWN

Albums Released on January 17th

Table Of Contents

Skip straight to any review of your choice by clicking one of the buttons, or just keep scrolling down to read them all in order!

Marigold -by- Pinegrove

20/20 Vision -by- Anti-Flag

R.Y.C -by- Mura Masa

Circles -by- Mac Miller

Modus Vivendi -by- 070 Shake

Revenge of the Dreamers III: Director’s Cut 

-by- Dreamville

Marigold

By Pinegrove

Marigold is Pinegrove’s newest release following their 1-year hiatus. The band has been clouded with controversy after accusations of an unprofessional and coercive relationship between lead singer Evan Hall and an anonymous member of a past tour. Although the two were able to sort out the issue privately, it still raises a lot of questions and issues.

Before getting into the music, it’s important to address the accusations against Hall, as they aren’t quite as cut-and-dry as these scenarios tend to be.

On November 21, 2017, Evan Hall posted a message to Facebook on the official Pinegrove account. The message described how he had been accused of sexual coercion, keeping the accuser anonymous before going into detail about the relationship. To keep it short, Hall described their time together on tour as “short but intense” in which the two supposedly developed feelings for each other while the unnamed woman was still in a relationship. After some time, she eventually broke up with her partner and engaged briefly with Hall.

Upon this announcement, the band immediately entered a 1-year hiatus and Hall sought therapy, the two main conditions of an agreement which Hall and his accuser reached together privately.

Sheridan Allen, the founder of Punk Talks, claimed to have been contacted regarding the situation with Pinegrove. Coming to the accuser’s aid, Allen made a series of moves to hold the band accountable, essentially doubling down on the requests that had been made. She also threatened to bring forward another accuser.

Then things got more complicated.

As it came to be revealed, Sheridan Allen overstepped many boundaries laid by the initial accuser. Allen brought public attention to the allegations and made efforts that were directly in opposition to the requests made when her help was initially sought out. Further, the second potential accuser was revealed to be Autumn Lavis, who had a brief, but consensual relationship with Hall.

“I have been a victim of sexual assault and I have spent years working to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Lavis said. “But my involvement with Evan wasn’t like that.”

In a New Yorker article, further statements from Hall’s accuser were released. She said that Hall’s influence as the frontman of the band and the circumstance of being stuck on tour together for several months led to a relationship that she now sees as implicitly manipulative.

“He really had no control over me,” she said. “But, in the bubble of tour, I really felt like he did.” At the end of the relationship, she felt she hadn’t suffered any abuse or violence, but still felt damaged in some way.

So, at the end of this long, complicated issue, we aren’t left with a lot of clear answers. I’ve linked the two aformentioned articles and the facebook post from Hall, for you to read and decide for yourself. To me, it’s clear that Hall, perhaps naively, took advantage of his influence and while he may not have seen its negative impacts first hand, it still caused his accuser a lot of emotional strife and pain. While other artists like R. Kelly and Chris Brown have a much more clearly defined case against them, Evan Hall’s situation is much more obscured, confusing, and harder to pass judgement on. Take the time to analyze it yourself, and decide what you think. 

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the music:

One would think that given the emotional complexity and impact of such a situation, Marigold would focus heavily on reckoning with that, atoning, and self betterment. And at parts, it does. The slowly rolling “Spiral” feels like a brief musical mantra of self betterment mixed with stream-of-consciousness moments of emotion with lines like, “Drink water/Good posture/Good lighting/Good evening/You’re mourning/The loss of/A feeling/A part of/A process.” The light, airy “No Drugs” shows an intimate view of what it’s like to want to be better in a situation in which it’s hard to do so. 

While songs like these focus on the importance and process of growing and learning, there are few songs that, to me at least, stand out as addressing Hall’s actions in the past. For a band as emotionally focused as Pinegrove, I would expect at least a few tracks to intimately engage with this subject matter – given the complicated nature of what happened, it seems like creating some compelling music surrounding it without revealing private details would be possible.

Instead, the majority of the album focuses on introspection and other emotional points in Hall’s life. The opening track “Dotted Line” is a hymn of putting ones self back together and rolling with the punches as life progresses, with a cathartic final chorus that sounds at home with Pinegrove’s biggest hits. “Phase”, a more up-beat track from halfway through the record, details struggles with anxiety late at night and all the racing thoughts and choking stress that comes with it.

Unfortunately, moments like these feel few and far between. While the lyrics of all the songs fall in Pinegrove’s signature style and have the depth we’ve come to express, the soul-grabbing singalong moments from classic tracks like “Cadmium” and “New Friends” just aren’t there, their space filled more by Pinegrove refining the slower, sadder alt-country and folk corner of their sound. While it’s not bad, it just feels sleepy and hollow to me. I love Pinegrove’s music for that spine-tingling, loving and warm yet sad and melancholy feeling whenever the emotions in the song reach a tipping point and pour out. And in that department, Marigold is lacking. I hope in the future Pinegrove brings these emotionally massive moments back to us.

I give Marigold by Pinegrove a 2.5 out of 5.

20/20 Vision

By Anti-Flag

20/20 Vision is Anti-Flag’s 12th studio album, released a full 24 years after their debut. Anti-Flag has always been a very “what you see is what you get” kind of band for me. Some bands focus on making deep, complex art with their music. And while albums like To Pimp A Butterfly are truly incredible, that’s not everyone’s M.O. Some people, like those in Anti-Flag, focus more on making energetic, accessible musical fuel to support the anti-imperialist fire under their listeners. And that’s exactly what 20/20 Vision is.

The record’s opener “Hate Conquers All” begins with a recording from a Donald Trump Rally, in which he says, “In the good old days, this doesn’t happen, because they used to treat them very,  very rough. And when they protested once, they would not do it again so easily.” before exploding into the high-gain, half screaming chorus in which frontman Justin Sane calls takes aim at the recent Trump-influenced state of the right with the lines “Hate conquers all in the ashes of the fall, with our backs against the wall, with our backs against the wall / Watch the empire fall, watch the nation dissolve, with our backs against the wall, with our…”

Such a seething track sets the stage perfectly for an album fuelled by righteous anger. In songs like “Christian Nationalist” Sane puts his crosshairs on the resurgence of white nationalism and neo-nazis, with the scathing reminder “History is littered with the likes of you.” Other tracks like “Unbreakable” and “Defiant” carry this energy further. Later on, “A Nation Sleeps” brings the heat even more with it’s more hardcore punk inspired sound.

But for every moment of high-octane anger, there’s a pulled punch.

In some cases, it’s tracks like “20/20 Vision” which are a welcome break from the tension of the other tracks, filling a more positive anthemic space and encouraging action and unity without baring any teeth. Tracks like “The Disease” pack anti-elitist sentiments in a more accessible and catchy package, still retaining a decidedly punk attitude.

In other cases, you get what feel like some well-intentioned missteps. The closing track “Resistance Frequencies” turns in the direction of ska punk. I’m not a fan of ska punk, but i do respect its status as an appreciated punk subgenre. What I don’t quite as much like, is how it’s blended in with a largely punk rock record. At the same time, I can’t hang on this caveat too heavily, as musical experimentation this late in a career is a rare but welcome sight to see. You also get other, perfectly passable punk rock tracks in the tracklist like “You Make Me Sick” and “It Went Off Like A Bomb” which, while energetic and true to the message, unfortunately feel like Anti-Flag by-the-numbers.   

While it isn’t perfect, the one thing I have to commend Anti-Flag for is the attitude going into this. Many political artists carry a message that leaves listeners feeling righteously angry, but alone and stewing in that. Anti-Flag, however, makes sure the message is as positive and encouraging as it can be, urging support and camraderie in this dark, confusing time. 

I give 20/20 Vision by Anti-Flag a 3 out of 5.

 

R.Y.C

By Mura Masa

R.Y.C is Mura Masa’s sophomore album, following up his self-titled 2016 debut. While his first record was decidedly more pop-oriented, R.Y.C follows a more indie-rock and alt-pop inspired sound.

Mura Masa opens the record with slowly building guitar chords and bass as he reflects on his youth in the minimalistic title track “Raw Youth Collage”. The tone swings from one train of thought to another spanning the spectrum from nostalgia to resentment before arriving at the concluding statement: “How am I supposed to live in the world? / We’ll have to find a way to move on / Do you ever wish you could forget the good times? /At least then you wouldn’t feel the ache / It’s the hottest day on Earth / I just keep staring at that collage.” 

This intimate, moody greeting builds a foundation for the rest of the album, burning in a sense of wistfulness and wonder. The rock-oriented sound develops further on the following song “No Hope Generation” calling into mind motifs from emo’s golden age in the late 2000s and early 2010s. 

Following that, the album’s first feature track “I Don’t Think That I Can Do This Again” leans further towards the pop side with light and smooth verses and a pulsing chorus that combines the best of the track’s ethereal melodies with high-gain pulsing bass and drums.

This dichotomy is a good way to look at the album as a whole – Mura Masa is taking some clear influences from earlier, more melancholy alternative and indie music while filling in the lines with his own ragged, youthful flair.

As far as names go, Raw Youth Collage is about as accurate as you can get with an album like this. Each song feels like tuning in to a different memory from Mura Masa’s upbringing.

After Ned Green’s ethereal spoken-word interlude “a meeting at an oak tree” we’re finally shown the more energetic side of this album’s concept in slowthai’s “Deal Wiv It”.

Up until this point, R.Y.C has largely focused on nostalgia and melancholy. “Deal Wiv It” is the very antithesis of this, but in just the right way. Where other songs took inspiration from music made earlier in the 2000s, this track has classic Clash-era punk written all over it. The driving, gainy bassline and drums are perfectly bookended by slowthai’s attitude-filled delivery. 

“vicarious living anthem” retains some of the punk flair of its predecessor while taking a step closer to the earlier, more indie-inspired tracks on the album. Mura Masa’s penchant for transitioning from genre to genre feels almost effortless, somehow making the modern sample-based alt-pop of “In My Mind” feel right at home with the more rock-oriented cuts.

“Today” greets listeners as a slower more typical acoustic-based song, but as we’ve come to learn on this album, it doesn’t stay in that realm long as fuzzy synth bass comes in to complement Tirzah’s voice in an unlikely way. Following that is the more upbeat “Live Like We’re Dancing”, which features Georgia. As you can infer from the name, the song has catchy, poppy vocals and an infectious dance beat in the hook that washes away much of the sadness from earlier tracks on the record.

The penultimate track brings the record full circle in a way, going back to the plucky clean electric guitars and skeletal buildup of the title track aided by Ellie Rowsell, vocalist of Wolf Dreams. After the first two minutes, the track begins to unravel in an almost robotic, static bridge before coming back together for one final resounding chorus before the ambient, dreamy instrumental closer “(nocture for strings and a conversation)” slowly closes the album.

The more I listen to this record, the more impressed I am by Mura Masa’s ability to combine multiple genres around one centralized theme. In recent years, the lines between genres have definitely blurred and the results have often led to even more musical innovation, and R.Y.C is no different. Although not every song is perfect, the vision behind the project is stellar and relatable.

I give R.Y.C by Mura Masa a 3.5 out of 5.

Circles

By Mac Miller

On September 7, 2018, Mac Miller passed away from an accidental drug overdose, relatively shortly after the release of Swimming. As it came to be revealed recently, at the time Miller was working on a companion album to Swimming named Circles with Jon Brion. Over the past year and a half, Brion has been working on tying up the loose ends to deliver Mac’s last musical vision to his fans.

The sound of this album immediately stands out compared to its predecessors, with Mac Miller focusing more on stripped-back, lyrically driven songs with a more personal feel.

The opening track, “Circles”, slowly plays along as Mac muses about the seemingly futile nature of life, often ending up back where he started, “drawing circles”. It’s a somber, but appropriate note to open on. This gives way to the more upbeat sounding “Complicated”. Despite the more positive instrumental, the lyrics still remain in the vein of reflective, burnt-out thought that directed most of Swimming and the introduction to this album with simple but impactful lines like “I’m way too young to be getting old”.

Despite this weariness, Circles carries a certain intangible optimism that shows Mac progressing more out of the darker spot he was in on Swimming. Tracks like “Blue World” highlight this, taking pleasure in the simplicity of life and everything it brings. 

The album’s debut single, “Good News” has a calming, muted instrumental that provides a backdrop for Mac to vent about the emotionally taxing nature of his fame, in which he feels unable to share his sadness and his successes – a kind of emotional limbo. 

“I Can See” shows us a more spacey side of Mac as he ponders the meaning of life – or if there is any at all. Following that is an inspired cover of Arthur Lee’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live” entitled “Everybody”. It bears a lot of similarity to the original track, but stands out on its own through some rearrangement and new ideas.

“Woods” is a more RnB and pop-influenced cut, while still being low-key and full of reflection on his relationship and breakup with Ariana Grande. “Hand Me Downs” has the album’s only feature, with Baro on the chorus. This is one of the more positive songs from the album, focused love. In a way, it’s like a more positive second half to “Woods”.

“That’s On Me” has a dreamy, waltz-like tempo with rolling guitar melodies and slow, plodding bass. Lyrically, the song focuses on Mac’s relationship and sense of accountability with his mental health, trying to reassure fans and loved ones while taking responsibility.

As the album rounds out, we see Mac revisiting his typical rapping style for a brief moment on “Hands” while he focuses on the more negative aspects of himself before leading into “Surf”, which takes a closer look at his loneliness and anxiety – but with the ultimate hope that one day he’ll find somewhere he feels at home. The album closes with “Once A Day”, a track Miller apparently recorded on his phone initially. That shows Mac reaching a sort of natural conclusion of all this introspection, striving to live with himself openly and happily – even though he’s not perfect.

Circles feels like the closure Mac Miller fans have been wanting for the past year and a half. It’s a portrait of growth, self-care, and hope from a man who never stopped seeking his next big step as an artist, and it paints a bittersweet but beautiful farewell.

I give Circles by Mac Miller a 4 out of 5.

 

Modus Vivendi

By 070 Shake

Modus Vivendi (Latin for “way of life”) is 070 Shake’s debut studio album. Shake began her career releasing music independently on SoundCloud before being signed to GOOD Music, the record label founded by Kanye West and currently led by Pusha T. Since being signed, Shake has released a steady stream of new material with high profile artists including West himself and Nas. 

The whole record is centered around Shake’s own brand of autotune-heavy rap and pop set to spacey, synth fuelled beats. Tracks like “Morrow” and “Rocketship” focus more on the synth-pop side of her sound, while “The Pines”, “Come Around”, and “Microdosing” have a darker, more gloomy and foreboding feel. In a way, these songs are as beautiful as their atmosphere is uncomfortable. 

Shake is clearly building her own futuristic lane, musically speaking. But she also shows an excellent talent for using old samples, such as The Ebonys’ “It’s Forever”, to create an interesting and fun blend of retro and modern sounds on songs like “Rocketship” and “Guilty Conscience”.

One constant across nearly all songs is a sense of sadness – especially on tracks like “Divorce” and “The Pines”. Sadness has become a hot topic in modern rap, but what makes this album so great is the alien way in which it approaches that emotion. The wave of emo rap pioneered by artists like Juice WRLD has become almost ubiquitous, and Shake took her own unique approach that feels very mature, artistic, and thought-out. 

The album isn’t without its flaws – certain tracks can blend together, especially towards the end of the record. Although I enjoyed the final two tracks a lot, those preceding it like “Daydreamin” and “Nice To Have” didn’t do much to stand out.

Ultimately, Modus Vivendi is a very conceptually strong album with a great, unique sound that differs from other mainstream peers. Although it’s not perfect, it’s an excellent debut for 070 Shake and has me excited for her next big project.

I give Modus Vivendi by 070 Shake a 4 out of 5.

Revenge Of The Dreamers III: Director’s Cut

By Dreamville

A little over one year ago, J. Cole’s Dreamville label invited dozens of artists and producers from all over the country to join him for 10 days in the studio to collaborate on Revenge of the Dreamers III, the label’s newest group album. The result was an undertaking with a near army of artists from across the spectrum – Ty Dolla $ign to DaBaby, 6lack to Vince Staples, KEY! to Kendrick Lamar. At the end of those 10 days, Cole and crew emerged from the studio with hours upon hours of music ready to be sifted through and curated to create the ultimate collab album – and on July 5th 2019, the 18-track album released to critical acclaim.

At the time of release, Cole teased a “deluxe version” that had excited fans foaming at the mouth for more. And then… nothing. For the next couple of months, Dreamville slowly rolled out music videos while artists like Bas and Earthgang used the buzz from ROTD3 to bring in more listeners to their new releases, one of which was my favorite album of the year – Mirrorland. Towards the start of winter, rumors started picking up again until Dreamville dropped another 2-pack featuring “Still Up” and “Bussit” on January 13th, revealing the release date of the full deluxe edition to be that Friday, January 16th.

As promised, Revenge of the Dreamers III: Director’s Cut was released that Friday, featuring the original 18 songs with 12 new ones.

Most of the time, when a deluxe edition is released, you’ll get 2 or 3 songs, maybe a few demos, etc. What Dreamville released is nothing short of a full new album.

Many of the Director’s Cut songs are as good, if not better than the originals.

Songs like “Big Black Truck”, “Up Up Away”, and “Outta Pocket” scratch the itch for high energy bangers more than comparable tracks from the original release like “Down Bad” and “Costa Rica”.

Tracks like “Bussit” capture the romantic energy of earlier cuts featuring Ari Lennox, although others like “Passcode” make the same attempt and end up feeling a bit sleepier. “Late Night” definitely falls in that same vein, going for a more relaxed sound but ending up being a little too laid back.

The more old-school hip hop tracks like “Revenge” are as good as ever, with Top Dawg Entertainment’s REASON laying down bar after bar.

Tracks like “No Chorus” and “Spin Move” highlight the best of the project’s collaborative and experimental streak, with off-kilter beats and slightly unusual ideas that could only come from such a multi-faceted effort as this.

And of course, just like the original closed out with the emotional and genuine “Sacrifices”, the Director’s Cut finishes with the equally heartfelt and forward-facing “Still Dreamin”, closing out another great chapter of the Dreamville story just right.

The spirit of musicianship and collaboration painted all over Revenge of the Dreamers III is a refreshing gift that just keeps giving. 2019, in general, was home to some amazing collaborative projects from groups like Beast Coast, Pivot Gang, and JACKBOYS – something I’m very glad to see Dreamville extend into the new year.

I give Revenge of the Dreamers III: Director’s Cut a 4 out of 5.