Streaming Consciously: Rapsody In Bloom, Kurt & Courtney, Wu-Tang Re-Reunite, The MASSEDUCATION of Annie Clark, Ty$'s Beach House in 3-D
Halloween is now over. But before we get gone till November, we wanted to take a look back at October. The Five Spot and Streaming Consciously cross streams, to discuss five albums we’ve been absorbing over the last month, in between soaking up all the Wudder Sports you’ve been reading about during the interim. Each of them debuted in your neighborhood or online Wrecka Stow within the past three weeks or so.
It’s been a ten-year grind leading up to North Carolina MC Rapsody reaching her breakout moment on her Roc Nation debut, Laila’s Wisdom.
Raised under the tutelage of Little Brother producer 9th Wonder’s Jamla collective, she truly became the standout of the bunch by the time of the signifying “Betty Shabazz” off 9th Wonder Presents: Jamla Is The Squad.
Rapsody’s profile stepped it up another level, after meditating on “Complexion” with Kendrick and Thundercat on 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
K-Dot, clearly a fan, returns the favor here on the lead single “Power”. Our 20SickDream Musical MVP, Anderson Paak, also turns up on two tracks, as does K-Dot’s go-to crooner BJ The Chicago Kid. The Roots’ Black Thought comes thru too, to put a new twist on his old Illadelph Halflife era syllable flip style on “Nobody”.
Busta Rhymes shows up twice, to bless the proceedings with ad-libs on “Ridin”, and add a spoken-word outro on “You Should Know”. On the latter, 9th Wonder flips Goodie Mobb’s “Cell Therapy” beat, with a taste of flamenco guitar on the intro reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest’s “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”. Busta does not actually spit a full-fledged verse, but he said a mouthful in the press regarding this album before it even dropped, stating “Laila’s Wisdom is the best hip-hop album I’ve heard in 10 years”. Does Bus-a-Bus remember Tribe’s triumphant masterpiece he was a part of last year?
While we wouldn’t have gone there, we won’t begrudge anyone who feels otherwise. This is clearly an album that’s a labor of love, without feeling labored. Rapsody, who like many underground champions can sometimes lean towards self-seriousness, or rapping-to-show-you-how-good-she-can-rap sake, is clearly in good spirits, playing with flows, and having some fun here. The end result sounds like the album she’s always wanted to make, while also being the one that her growing legion of fans will wanna hear.
Wudder Weight: 4 outta 5
“You Oughta Know”
Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett-Lotta Sea Lice
I don’t know how or when Philly-based War On Drugs affilate Kurt Vile and Aussie singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett linked up. Maybe it was just a game-recognize-game thing, with both of their talents sending out bat-signals from an increasingly fading indie-rock scene.
But from the moment you hear these two trading off conversational verses, on the opening salvo single “Over Everything”, you’ll be glad they did.
Of course, by the time that song’s six minutes are up, you’ve already experienced the best track on the album. But the rest of it, while perhaps slowing in pace and impact for a spell in the middle, is still a fine toss-it-on-and-let-it-ride 45 minutes.
It sounds like these two could have whipped this thing together inside a single weekend. And that’s part of its easy charm. This may have began as a lark from two of the too-few luminaries left in this roots-rock KCRW/WXPN lane, while still in their prime.
It may have been an excuse for both to embark on the tour they’re currently doing together, with a super-group backing band dubbed Lotta Sea Lice featuring members of Sleater-Kinney and Warpaint among others.
Is that really a Belly cover tacked on at the end?!?
Who cares what sparked it, everyone involved here seems to be having fun. They likely will be having even more fun onstage at Tower Theater tonight. If they’ve been actually taking some time to write and play together while on the road this fall, we’re guessing we get another album that turns out better than alright.
Wudder Weight: 3.75 out 5 Pitchfork prongs
“Fear is Like a Forest”
Wu-Tang Clan-The Saga Continues
Nearly 25 years after their classic debut, anyone waiting for Wu-Tang Clan to provide the kind of raw energy and element of surprise that album did, will continue to be disappointed. The Wu-Tang Clan as we knew it, is gone forever, no pun intended. That was true as soon as Ol’ Dirty Bastard fell down a rabbit hole of addiction, imprisonment, and eventually death.
They will never be at the cultural zeitgeist of contemporary rap music again.
But two and a half decades after they began, this first-ballot Hip-Hop Hall of Fame collective remains capable of providing its fans with a taste of the raw that will leave most its devotees with reasonable expectations satisfied.
See 2009’s Chamber Music for a prominent example. Or Raekwon’s past decade of albums, starting with Cuban Linx II. Maybe any of Method Man’s many stellar features since his scene-stealing moment on “Yolanda’s House” ten years ago. Check out any of Inspectah Deck's recent trio of Czarface projects, with 7L & Esoteric. Perhaps even try some of Masta Killa’s better-late-than-never solo work. Oddly enough, you won’t find much from the 2010's catalog of critical darling Ghostface, nor on either of the last two RZA-produced Wu-Tang Clan albums.
So here’s how you can learn to stop worrying and love (or at least like) the old-new Wu. Come into this album expecting to appreciate it for what it is: a Mathematics (longtime Wu/Meth tour DJ, designer of the W logo) producer album, catering to the classic Wu-Tang sound RZA has moved away from, recorded mostly while on the road with Redman and Method Man.
Therefore, Meth is starring in this one and he’s in fine form on six tracks. RZA is on board as an executive producer and MC, performing both more capably than his recent behind-the-boards work. But GZA is barely present at all, as he continues his semi-retirement from recording. Is U-God still even in this group? Deck shows up for two posse cuts. You get the picture. It's a "Wu" album, not a WU album.
The tracks you might have heard already, “Lesson Learn’d” and “People Say”, give you a pretty best-case-scenario of what you’re in store for here. If you don’t like those, you won’t like this album. The one banger that truly stands out among this collection for yours truly is “Pearl Harbor”, which features the late-great Sean Price (Heltah Skeltah) catching wreck with three A-List Wu MC’s (Meth, Ghost, RZA). It’s the cut that's able to transcend the context of the rest.
Wudder Weight: 3 out of 6 Chambers
Singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Anne Erin “Annie” Clark, better known on stages and records as “St. Vincent”, is onto something with MASSEDUCATION.
I’m just not sure exactly what that is yet. Or whether she fully is either.
While being a fan of her 2012 collaboration with David Byrne of Talking Heads, Love This Giant, my first time seeing St. Vincent onstage is likely the same as many others: performing “Lithium” at Nirvana’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction.
Like most things surrounding Nirvana since Nirvana, I had mixed feelings. Did a crowd of rock stars and rich seat-fillers really need to boo Courtney Love while she was accepting an award on behalf of her dead husband? Would it have killed everybody’s-favorite-rock-nice-guy Dave Grohl to let Courtney sing at least one of her husband’s songs, instead of say, Lorde, for no apparent reason? I digress.
It’s been about three and a half years since that night, which was nearly twenty years to the day after Cobain’s suicide. Since then, Clark has toured fairly steadily, while by her own admission grappled with a serious bout of writer’s block.
This album feels like either an explosion that occurred when she came out on the other side, or a belabored collage of all the fits-and-bursts in between.
There’s almost no sign of Clark’s trademark guitar work present on earlier albums. This is more of a beat-driven affair, produced by FUN’s Jack Antanoff, who recently produced the aforementioned Lorde’s sophomore album. And when it isn’t being propelled by synths and drum programming, it’s a stripped-down piano-and-a-mic affair on songs like “New York” and “Happy Birthday, Johnny”.
The last time St. Vincent released music, Prince and Bowie were still alive. Both influences show up here: Prince on the title track, which wouldn’t feel out of place on Vanity 6, or as a mid-80's P b-side, then later Scary Monsters-era Bowie on “Sugarboy”.
The cartoonishly repetitive hook on “Pills” is the kind of "ear candy" that may give you a stomach ache. But perhaps, like the subject itself, you develop a tolerance for it. Once you do, the second half of this dizzying song segues into a coda that sounds like “Dear Prudence” melded with Dark Side of the Moon. I’m still not sure what to make of it all.
This is the only record on this list with the chance to vacillate between landing inside our year-end Top 10, or being completely out of mind come December. If what I’m saying there isn’t helpful, it remains like Annie Erin Clark herself, honest and unashamed. I have no ability at this time to assign this album a grade.
Wudder Weight: 🤔 😵 🤐 out of 😍😎🤗😜 😋
2019 postscript: I was overthinking it, this album bangs.
Ty Dolla $ign-Beach House 3
If you’ve ever wondered what a millennial singing-and-guitar-playing version of DJ Quik might sound like, look no further South Central LA’s Ty Dolla $ign. Much like Quik, you’re primarily listening for sonics and songcraft, rather than lyrics, you just hope that the latter doesn’t distract from the former.
On his second full-length album, following 2015’s well-received Free T.C., Dolla $ign attempts to elevate his game with a briefer, but still equally star-studded affair. Thematically, the tropes are primarily the same kind of id-versus-ego battles he’s been giving us since “Paranoid” became a Top 40 hit four years ago.
Ty sets a more reflective tone on album opener “Famous”. Accompanied by only his acoustic guitar, his croon stripped of technological effects, the native Angelino declares “Everybody wants to be famous” and “they don’t wanna die nameless”, while lamenting the things some do to get there. It’s a sharp left, right outta the gate. Does he stay there? Of course not. But by doing so, it places some of the more hedonistic or aspirational material to follow, in a somewhat different light.
The first misstep might actually be the first single, “Love U Better”, featuring The Dream and Lil Wayne. It’s not terrible, but it sounds like something that might have sounded more interesting back when the track’s co-stars were peaking commercially, at the turn of last decade. A far better example of Dolla $ign mining retrograde well arrives immediately after, on “Ex” with YG. It’s a nouveau West Coast reclamation of the “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” Vaughn Mason & The Crew sample that Stevie J & The Hitmen used on 112’s “Only You” with Ma$e & BIG. It bangs immediately. This woulda been the lead single if we were A&R-ing this album.
There are other strong moments. “Stare”, with Pharrell Williams and Wiz Khalifa, adds up to the sum of its parts. Has Pharrell really been tossing out these effortless hooks now for twenty years?!? Don't bother to check, the answer is yes.
The Mike.Will.Made.It.-manned “Don’t Judge Me”, with Ty$ and Future swapping styles, while Rae Srremurd’s Swae Lee sounds positively futuristic, is a wholly satisfying marriage of defiance, melody and melancholy.
“Droptop In the Rain (with Tory Lanez)” gives you the silly fun of an R. Kelly automotive-erotic analogy, without the Kellz creep factor. “In Your Phone” is an effective battle-of-the-sexes relationship drama, centered around the device we can’t do without, even while in the presence of the one we love. The reggae-EDM hybrid of “So Am I”, with Skrillex & Damien Marley, isn’t the embarrassment it could have been on paper.
Despite being twenty-minutes shorter than Free T.C., there’s still some fat that could have been trimmed from Beach House 3. But overall there’s enough positive vibrations to make it a spot you might vacation.
Wudder Weight: 3.5 outta 5 on Airbnb
“Don’t Judge Me”