Releases from the week of April 17th
Table Of Contents
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Blame It On Baby
If you’re familiar with DaBaby, you’ve no doubt heard people making jokes about how every song of his sounds the same. In a recent interview with The Breakfast Club, DaBaby responded to fans voicing their disappointment in his lack of variety. Although he claimed that although he could compete with rappers like J. Cole if he chose to, he said it’s important to “milk the game” too.
Personally, I enjoy music for the sake of music, not profit. It’s discouraging to see artists phone it in for a check, but there’s another side to that too. On “CAN’T STOP”, the characteristically in-your-face opener of Blame It On Baby, he remarks that his daughter “took care of forever off music”. On NBA YoungBoy assisted track “JUMP”, this topic is briefly revisited amidst the eccentric instrumental, with the line “My lil’ daughter two, but got six figures put up”.
All things considered, Baby’s mindset at the moment regarding his craft seems less focused on creativity and more focused on providing for himself and his family, which is something just as important as pushing creative boundaries, even if it doesn’t necessarily make for good music.
When Kirk was released last year, I was disappointed with DaBaby’s lack of creative development and the record’s general monotony. I’m glad to report that DaBaby has managed to make some progress in this regard, as the production and vocal delivery on this record has much more variety.
Some beats are stereotypical DaBaby, while some feel fresh and intriguing, like that of the record’s title track “BLAME IT ON BABY”. DaBaby’s rapid-fire bars are consistent as ever, and he experiments more with singing and other vocalizations than ever before, with tracks like “FIND MY WAY”, “CHAMPION”, and “ROCKSTAR” focusing more on singing and crooning, the latter of which is almost guaranteed to be a hit given the Roddy Ricch feature and memorable hook.
The bad news is that these exercises in growth don’t always work for DaBaby. On “SAD SH*T”, for example, Baby’s sung vocals are definitely on the weaker end of the spectrum. Aside from growing pains, Baby still struggles to reach the hit-making zenith he reached last year upon the release of “Suge”, with many of the songs on the record failing to stand out.
What’s even more concerning here is that the tracks with big-name rappers like Quavo, Future, and A Boogie Wit da Hoodie are all incredibly underwhelming. Having these names not only gives the tracks massive potential for exposure but also makes it much easier for them to stand out – yet for some reason, they feel like they had even less effort put into them than their solo counterparts. Missteps like this leave me worried for DaBaby’s future and longevity as an artist.
There are plenty of ups and downs to this record. I think it’s been getting a lot more hate than it deserves, but to the critics’ credit, many of the steps taken on this record feel too little, too late. DaBaby’s next move better be a big one if he wants to maintain his status in the rap world.
I give Blame It On Baby by DaBaby a 2.5 out of 5
Fetch The Bolt Cutters
By Fiona Apple
If you follow any music publication, you’ve probably heard of this record already. Fetch The Bolt Cutters is Fiona Apple’s fifth studio record, released 8 years after her last record The Idler Wheel… Upon release, it received universal acclaim from critics for its unique approach to instrumentation and raw, evocative lyrics that cover subjects of betrayal, womanhood, love, and life, amongst other things. Pitchfork, one of today’s most influential online music publications, gave it a 10/10. Clearly, there must be something special about this record.
Before I dive too deeply into this, it’s important to acknowledge something. A lot of the lyrical content in this record is deeply rooted in Apple’s perspective as a woman. In the past, I struggled with honestly reviewing records in this vein, such as FKA Twigs’ MAGDALENE because although I can do all the research, read into all the lyrics, and truly try to understand some of the themes in this record, the fact of the matter is some of this just isn’t meant for me, emotionally. And that’s okay, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and analyze it, but it’s important to acknowledge that I’m not an authority on the concepts or experiences woven into many of the lyrics.
The opening track “I Want You To Love Me” touches on more than just the desire to be loved. Aside from the hook, the track deals largely with existential ideas: time, growth, life, death, all vague concepts that tie us together as living beings. The idea that we all exist and that we all matter in our own ways, regardless of how far removed we may be from each other – a sort of unity in independence. And amidst all this, consistently returning, is our desire to be loved and accepted while we’re here. Musically, the track’s slowly rolling piano melodies are a perfect backdrop to Apple’s vocal performance – my only gripe is with the end of the track. A big point of this record is its improvisational and arguable experimental nature, with many eccentricities spread throughout the project. That’s not inherently bad, but in this case, I feel like the high-pitched yelping at the end just feels like a tacked-on afterthought. Luckily this is one of the few moments on the album where I feel that is the case.
“Shameika” takes a journey back to Apple’s childhood, over a bustling piano instrumental that frames the story perfectly. Apple recalls being bullied relentlessly, yet still seeking attention from those that hurt her. One day, a girl named Shameika told her she “had potential” after seeing Apple fail to connect with other girls, in essence reminding her not to settle for those who don’t want her and to be herself. As the track continues, Apple revisits various moments from her life all tied together with the reminder Shameika gave her years ago as she grows into herself more and more.
The album’s title track is immediately identifiable by its unique approach to percussion. Instead of using drums, Apple seems to have sought out anything she could make a beat on. The message of the track deals with removing negative things from your life, whether they’re pushed on you or self-imposed. According to Apple, the point is “fetch the fucking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation you’re in – whatever it is that you don’t like.” The plodding bass and sparse instrumentals continue to push listeners to focus on vocals, while still providing an interesting slice-of-life backdrop to Apple’s stream of consciousness, including the barking that fades in towards the end of the track.
“Under The Table” recalls a fancy dinner that Apple was in no way excited for. In a Vulture article where she talks about the meaning behind all the songs on this record, Apple mentions that this was the kind of dinner where people brag about things she wouldn’t brag about, and make offensive comments that she wouldn’t abide. She calls a guy out for a comment, even though she’s seen as making a scene she knows she’s right and isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers by being herself. This anecdote extends across the whole track and is often found on other tracks as Fiona reiterates how unapologetic she is for being herself.
The constant tension of “Relay” creates a driving, engrossing experience that’s hard to pull away from. The rhythmic repetition of the verses augments this trance-like state as Apple airs out anger and frustration tied to her assault at a young age and the way predators use their privilege to try and prevent any of the pain they sow from being cast back in their direction. This track uses Brett Kavanaugh as an example, describing his apparent mindset as “How could you be mad at me? Don’t make me suffer. But I’m married, but I have kids, so I can’t be a bad guy. But I was just young, don’t be so mean to me, that girl’s being mean to me.” From this, lines like “I resent you for being raised right” and for “being tall” are drawn, as these positive features and privileges are what men like Kavanaugh use in their defense. Another key concept in the lyrics is the idea of passing pain and trauma: “Evil is a relay sport, when the one who’s burned turns to pass the torch” is a much more artful way of the platitude “hurt people hurt people” and ties into the other side of the track’s message excellently.
“Rack Of His” details facets of two of Apple’s relationships. In the first verse, Apple talks about unrequited affection, in which she was putting more effort into the relationship than her partner. The second verse contains the line “Check out that rack of his, look at that row of guitar necks”, referring to the way men tend to objectify women, but switching the roles. Towards the end of the verse, she veers from objectification to empathy as she finds herself in a similar position in her relationship, where both she and the guitars are tools to be used.
The opening of “Newspaper” takes on a more unsettling, skeletal sound as Apple’s lyrics fade in. Apple touches on the perception of men in the context of relationships, and how many are seen with a sterling reputation while those they have hurt are the only ones who are truly aware of all the aspects of that man in reality. The track continues detailing how Fiona feels connected to those hurt by the same man who hurt her, even those who haven’t been hurt yet as she sees the cycle start anew, undoubtedly ending in another victim. The feverish percussion and meandering choral vocals interspersed throughout the song give it a haunting sense of gravity.
“Ladies” is a softer cut with a message of “not letting men pit us against each other,” according to Apple. One of the real-life connections Apple uses to illustrate this is cheating, and how in the case of her grandmother, she was always mad at her husband’s mistress but never at her husband. Clearly the husband is the one who cheated, why not direct the anger at him? Why blame someone who got manipulated by the same person who manipulated you?
Apple uses “Heavy Balloon” to explore depression, using various metaphors from the eponymous heavy balloon to the Saharan sun staring her down. As all these various pieces of imagery show how depression weighs us down and restricts us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Regardless, Apple remains determined to grow and spread and flourish, referenced in the line “I spread like strawberries, I climb like peas and beans”.
“Cosmonauts” was originally written for Judd Apatow’s 2012 movie This Is 40, but it was ultimately not used, so Apple re-recorded it with altered vocals. Initially, the song was meant to be about two people together forever, but Apple struggled with this as she didn’t know if she was the kind of person to be with anyone forever. As Apple retooled the track, the lyrics became more and more about the decay monogamous relationships can face with time, and how partners can slowly grow to get on each other’s nerves and harbor resentment as exemplified by the hook “Now we’ll be like a couple of cosmonauts, Except with way more gravity than when we started off”.
“For Her” is another track centered around women’s experiences with abuse, particularly a woman Fiona knew who was an intern at a film company, who was raped by her superior. The song starts by detailing the man himself, from his use of cocaine to his disregard for his wife, but also how he convinces his eventual victim that he’s there to protect her from the worst Hollywood has to offer. As the song goes on and slowly approaches the subject, Fiona comes out and says it: “Well good morning, good morning, you raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in”. In the same Vulture piece previously mentioned, Apple wanted to stress the importance of saying the reality of the situation out loud and clearly, as women shouldn’t have to tiptoe around their experiences when expressing themselves and their emotions.
“Drumset” takes the improvisational attitude of the record to its limits, as Fiona describes an incident in which a band member took her drumkit from Fiona’s house for another gig temporarily, but due to the emotional fallout from her recent breakup, Fiona mistook it as a sign that the drummer was mad at her. Apple picked up the phone and recorded herself singing her thoughts freely, and those exact words recorded in one take on her phone eventually became the lyrics of this song. The song blends these two experiences together lyrically, between her lingering feelings towards her ex and her feelings towards her bandmates in that brief moment.
Finally, the aptly titled “On I Go” closes the record out with a repeated chant “On Igo not toward or away / up until now it was day, next day / up until now in a rush to prove / but now I only move to move.”Apple explained this chant was based on a chant she sang during a brief trip to jail for possession of hash, and how it ties into her life in the sense that she has reached a point where she lives to live, doing what she wants because she wants to. The one break from this chant is a brief passage that expands on this notion. She does these actions for the sake of doing them, and if she reaps benefits from it, that would be good, but that’s not the point. For an album so deep and multifaceted, this track is refreshingly straightforward to end on.
Each song on this album has a lot of thought put into it conceptually, as I’ve already tried to illustrate in this unusually long review. But reading it doesn’t do it justice. Listening to it and opening up to the genuine and powerful lyrics is what makes this album truly special. The improvisational tone set here isn’t necessarily impressive in the technical sense, but it is in a more theatrical and conceptual one as it provides a surprisingly effective backdrop for Apple’s excellent writing. Although musically speaking it’s not necessarily my style, the amount of creativity and emotion on display can’t be ignored.
I give Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple a 9/10
Other New Releases
There’s not enough time for me to give a full review to every project that comes out – so here’s the rest of the new music that I listened to this week but didn’t have a chance to review. Releases with a star next to the title are the ones I liked most!
Amongst the Shadows and the Stones ⋆
By Trivium // Single
By Playboi Carti // Single
By Joji // Single