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  • Review: Deakin’s “Sleep Cycles” Will Wake You Up

    • Sleep Cycles will carry your fluid and tender body through a hazy galaxy of synthy pianos. Graphic Ocean DeRouchie

    When psychedelic-pop powerhouse Animal Collective dropped their tenth studio album Painting With earlier this year, it was met with mixed reviews from committed fans and casual listeners alike.

    Yet, co-founding band member Josh Dibb—best known under his pseudonym, Deakin—was nowhere to be found on the latest release. Many fans were left wondering if an appearance by the artist would have revitalized the group’s new direction.

    Deakin has contributed to some of Animal Collective’s most influential projects—from the enchanted and stripped down recordings on Feels to the colourfully soaked instrumentals of Strawberry Jam, Deakin has established himself as a talented songwriter.

    All inquires have been answered now—he’s been at work on his solo debut, Sleep Cycle. The project has had fans patiently waiting since 2009, when a Kickstarter to fund the album went live.

    Sleep Cycle has finally been released through Deakin’s bandcamp page for all his eager, adoring fans to finally bear witness.

    The album kicks off with “Golden Chords”—a song that will give any die hard Animal Collective fan a blast from the past, hitting them right in the nostalgic feels.

    The instrumentals—gentle with light guitar accompanied by a sample of what sounds like wind blowing by a serene lake—make the whole track feel fluid and tender.

    This is reminiscent of the type of work that Deakin has attributed to in the past with the band’s discography. The warmth that the song draws upon is inspiring, and plays with themes of self-doubt and seeking confidence within oneself found in the song’s lyrics.

    After the seamless transition from “Golden Chords” to “Just Am”—the only single released off the album—the high pitched piano synths of “Just Am” make their way in and out of the track.

    Weaving between regularly tuned piano chords, the synth-y noises are met with playful singing. The song maintains a polished feel while sounding beautifully cluttered.

    Deakin follows up “Just Am” with the first instrumental track on the LP titled, “Shadow Mine.” This short track feels like a throwback for any Animal Collective fan who misses the weird, ambient sounds that garnered the band such high praise in their long years of dominating the psychedelic pop genre.

    On my first play-through of Sleep Cycle, I was unaware of which tracks I was listening to. Melting together effortlessly, I had originally thought the entire album was a half hour long track.

    By the time I reached the last song, I was in awe at the cohesiveness of the project. Each transition from one song to the next felt natural and didn’t skimp on the artistic styling for which Deakin takes aim.

    On the track “Footy,” Deakin pulls inspiration from his past line of work to form a piece of music that is truly unique to the artist’s palette. The parallel between this song and “Cuckoo Cuckoo”—off of _Strawberry Jam_—becomes instantly recognizable as noisy clashing drums are paired with disorderly piano playing, all reminiscent of the artist’s older contributions in Animal Collective.

    The wall of noise in the last few minutes of the track is built beautifully, only to dissipate slowly into the next track, “Seed Song.”

    “Good House,” the sixth and final track on Sleep Cycle, is an appropriate way to conclude the album. Deakin sings peacefully about staying positive in times of darkness, reminding listeners that they should never hesitate to reach out for help. He wants to prove that no one should have to face their internal struggles on their own.

    In his solo-debut, Deakin has outdone himself—formulating the most confident piece of work that has come out from any of the members of Animal Collective in some time.

    Sleep Cycle is like a beautiful recurring dream—once you wake up, the positive impact on the rest of your day is evident, and inspires you to keep an upbeat outlook on your current predicament in life.

  • Review: Denzel Curry’s Imperial

    • Imperial will take you on a wild ride.

    Imperial comes off as one of the most hard hitting rap albums of the year, as Denzel Curry successfully fits the aggressive delivery of his previous works and incorporates it into Imperial in a way that supports the overall themes of the work.

    Released on March 9, Imperial presents itself with two tones. The first half of the project is incredibly abrasive and doesn’t take any breaks from being assertive and in your face, while the latter half feels dense but takes a toned down approach towards the subject matter.

    The track “ULT,” one of two lead singles from the project, starts off the LP and instantly locks the listener in for the pandemic style that Curry’s lyrics deliver. The energetic beats spat by the young rapper are complemented by the eerily misty synths and a booming bass.

    As soon as Curry starts spitting over the instrumental, his mission statement is clear: to prove he is better than the rest. Curry refers to himself as “ultimate” throughout many tracks—and there’s no better way to put it.

    “Knotty Head,” the second of the two singles, features a fitting cameo from the infamous Rick Ross. It’s backed up with a compelling dreamy synth laced throughout the song as Curry drops his lines with a vigorous yet laid back style.

    Curry continues to show off his artistic range in songs like “If Tomorrow’s Not Here,” which features some intoxicating guitar riffs loitering their way through a funky bass melody and a smooth chorus that is sung by Twelve’len. The rapper flexes his talents in the track by explaining how he’s gone from uncertain to more than confident in regards to his abilities as an artist, and how he doesn’t need to lead his own success alongside that of anyone else.

    “Narcotics” touches on issues of racial profiling as Curry voices his frustration with the far-from-reality perspectives of white people towards the black community—that the African-American community is saturated in drug culture and is violent in nature.

    Curry attempts to tear these prejudices down by celebrating his culture. Knowing that Denzel Curry went to the same high school as Trayvon Martin in Carol City, Florida, it is clear that the product of the track drives the point of addressing these racial tensions. It starts to seem like the murder of the young teen heavily influences Curry’s craft, as he emphasizes the impact racism has had on his community.

    From the track “Gook”—quick and unapologetically ruthless from start to finish—to “This Life”—introspective towards the kind of changes that the rising MC faces—Curry stretches his talents all over this LP. It’s difficult to compare his unique style to anyone in the industry today.

    While Curry may not be the only aggressive hip-hop rapper to take the stage as of recent time, he certainly is one of the most intriguing and passionate artists to stand out in recent rap history.

    If you haven’t given a proper listen to Imperial yet, you should board the next boat into Denzel Curry’s world. He’ll throw you around for awhile and rub you face in the dirt before dropping you off right back where you started. I swear you’ll be full of newfound respect.

  • Review: Lil’ Yachty’s on a Lil’ Boat

    • Some say Lil Yachty is paving the way for another generation of rappers to completely skew the cultural landmark of a genre, while others praise it for it’s creativity. Graphic Ocean DeRouchie

    The young Atlanta rapper, Lil Yachty, first made his way through my Soundcloud lineup after a stranger posted one of the tracks off his new mixtape, Lil Boat, onto a Facebook group for new music.

    I had watched the cover art make its rounds on multiple music forums, and heard mixed responses from the hip-hop community, so I was curious to see what the latest release from the rising MC was all about.

    Some say Lil Yachty is paving the way for another generation of rappers to completely skew the cultural landmark of a genre, while others praise it for it’s creativity.

    One of the introductory song in question,“Minnesota Remix,” instantly hooked me onto the whimsical styling of Lil Yachty.

    With entertaining verses from Quavo, Skippa Da Flippa and Young Thug supported by a light piano melody, the young MC is able to drive the entire track alongside with a constant percussion and heavy repressed bass that make up for lackluster vocals.

    The questionable singing does not take away from the overall impact of the tape. In fact, it adds to the album by fluidly synthesizing trap and cloud rap.

    This new, vigorous approach to hip-hop makes for one of the silliest, but most compelling, mixtapes I have come across in recent time.

    The best way to describe Lil Boat is as if Lil B, The BasedGod and Soulja Boy met and decided to create a gangster style story in the vein of a Dr. Seuss novel.

    The track “Intro (Just Keep Swimming)” introduces listeners to the absurdly silly production style and non-sensical lyricism that is plastered throughout the mixtape. The song starts with a Finding Nemo sample, then slowly transitions into a simple xylophone progression that oddly fits the classic Pixar film.

    Within a few seconds of the xylophone intro, the sounds of an ethereal flute are thrown into the mix. The track becomes light yet sharply tuned. The young MC goes on to describe two personas presenting themselves at the forefront of the whole project: Lil Yachty, the autotuned songstress, and Lil Boat, who takes the traditionally aggressive rap side of the duo.

    To restate, Lil Yachty’s vocals don’t actually influence the mixtape in any negative way; the auto tune thrown on top of his voice makes for a pleasant and ear-wormy listen.

    The track “Good Day” is without a doubt the best example of Lil Yachty’s way of catching a listener’s attention with a fun and embarrassingly catchy hook.

    I say embarrassing because the content does not inspire to be anything significantly new, as he talks about how rich he is and how he doesn’t need to give a shit about any of the haters. Because, ultimately, he’s having a good day.

    The delivery of the hook is also blown out of proportion. It’s ditzy—but after a couple of listens, you won’t be able to help yourself join in on the nonsense.

    On the other hand, the follow-up, “Up Next 2,” best showcases the dense flow that Lil Boat is capable of achieving.

    Some dreamy synths play at the forefront of the song as the young rapper absolutely destroys the instrumental. Lil Boat delivers a fast yet nonchalant motion of spitting bars that is a really delightful highlight to find on the first play-through of the whole thing.

    “Run/Running” kicks it up a notch and introduces a sample that will throw any major game enthusiast quite the surprise. Lil Yachty samples the flutes and in-game sounds from the Super Mario Bros franchise, which works out surprisingly well.

    Mixed into the sample are some heavy booming bass drops paired with the waggish auto tuned singing that becomes so eerily addictive that it’s concerning to know I enjoy it as much as I do.

    This song is able to capture the entire essence of the mixtape, innocent and fun yet unconventionally aggressive.

    If you have given this mixtape a listen for yourself and didn’t enjoy what you were listening to I wouldn’t blame you. I can see many hip-hop fanatics going into this project completely oblivious for what’s in store and walking away unsatisfied.

    If you find yourself not enjoying it on your first sit through of the tape, I would encourage you to approach Lil Boat with a different mentality.

    You need to view it for what it is at face value: a very strange cloud/trap rap mixtape with immensely absurd lyrics that are supported by some of the most interesting sample uses I have come across in 2016.

    Lil Yachty works his skills as the young nonsensical artist he is and crafts together what I believe is a sincerely interesting and uniquely challenging listen for both the hardcore and casual listeners alike.

    Thank you Lil Yachty and Boat for taking me on this wild cruise. I can’t wait to see what unmarked territories you decide to venture into next.

  • Coeur de Pirate Finds Her Way Back Home

    • Coeur de Pirate, or Béatrice Martin, played a sold-out show at Metropolis the evening of March 23. // Courtesy Dare To Care Records

    With a sold-out show at Metropolis on Wednesday night, it seemed Montrealers were happy to welcome back their very own Coeur de Pirate — the pop star born and raised in the Plateau.

    Coeur de Pirate is the pseudonym of Montrealer Béatrice Martin, a tattooed indie-pop musician who has built a name for herself in Canada and around the world with charming, piano-driven French ballads and a memorable, one-of-a-kind voice.

    In the days leading up to Wednesday’s show, Martin echoed Montreal’s enthusiasm about returning to her hometown, posting all over social media about her excitement to play for Montreal once again.

    In the packed theatre, the lights dimmed right on schedule to the whoops and cheers of the crowd. Geoffroy, the solo act of Geoffroy Sauvé, crept onstage through the darkness flanked by a synth player and drummer.

    With no ceremony or introduction, they began a sleek lullaby of pulsating synths and eerie vocalizations. Finally addressing the audience after two songs, Sauvé never actually mentioned his band’s name—I had to check their merch table later to learn the deal on the unknown electro ensemble.

    Their indie-electronica vibe—à la Passion Pit—eventually transitioned to a more conventional folk-pop groove. Sauvé’s keyboard was traded in for an electric guitar and he belted out catchy hooks with abandon, as opposed to his initial melancholy murmuring vocals.

    At this tone switch, the synth player began acting as the bassist, his reverb and warbles ditched in favour of voracious bass lines through the keyboard.

    Geoffroy bid the audience adieu after a half-hour set, and the crowd began buzzing in anticipation for Coeur de Pirate. Her full live band took the stage first—her keyboardist, drummer, and guitarist took up residence on the edges of the stage, circling the conspicuous gap in centrestage—home to a microphone stand and a grand piano.

    Then Martin herself sashayed onto centre stage to thunderous applause from the crowd. She took a seat at the grand piano and began hammering out an energized version of “Oceans Brawl” to kick off the show—one of the English songs off of her new album Roses.

    Massive projections of churning water illuminated the theatre and submerged the band during this nautical song, reflecting off huge tapestries hanging above the stage.

    Because of the marketing for the show, I knew we’d be treated to the entirety of Roses live, and sure enough, all 10 songs were played throughout the show. While the majority of Martin’s work is sung in French, Roses is a departure from this and is her first bilingual album—seven songs in English, three en français. One single is even presented in both English and French; the French version is a bonus track.

    While some of her diehard Quebecois fans may condemn this change, or even consider it selling out, I think it just demonstrates her versatility as an artist—her sound has naturally evolved over the years and her voice is as beautiful and unique as ever, no matter what language the lyrics are in.

    After “Oceans Brawl” and “Undone” with Martin at the helm of the grand piano, she glided to the microphone front and centre for her whimsical ditty “Golden Baby,” off her 2011 release Blonde.

    At this point she got to showcase her magnetic stage presence, performing ballet-esque kicks and strutting across the stage with flairs of modern dance, often throwing her head back at the height of a melody or falling dramatically to the ground.

    Dance was actually the focal point of an interlude halfway through the show—as her band laid down a groovy and serene instrumental track, Martin whirled through a matrix of swirling pinpoint lights bathing the stage.

    Her passion for experimental movement can also be seen in the music video for her sweeping pop single “Crier Tout Bas” off Roses.

    After the hypnotizing interlude, Martin surprised everyone with a cover of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” Coeur de Bieber collab, anyone? Martin injected her own bashful flavour to the song and transformed a hyper-produced club jam into a heartfelt tune.

    The crowd ate it up, and I was reminded of not too long ago when Martin released a cover of the Pokemon theme song for its 20th anniversary, and made me want to catch ‘em all again.

    A highlight of the show was her solo piano rendition of “Saint Laurent,” the nostalgic love ballad dedicated to Montreal’s beloved boulevard, which was one of my favourite experiences of the night. Out-of-focus twinkling candlelight projections flitted across the stage to create a magical mood, and even in the bitter winter night, for a moment, it felt like we were basking in the grass on a Montreal summer day.

    Another emotional piano-only song was “Way Back Home,” which she revealed was written for her 3-year-old daughter:

    And I’ll find my way back home
    Just to read upon the light that’s in your eyes
    And if you ever feel alone
    Just remember that I’ll be coming back

    Martin claimed she might cry several times that night, playing to her first and best fans in her home city, and she was right. After each roar from the crowd, Martin appeared taken aback, often dabbing away tears and expressing her gratitude.

    Her pseudo-finale for the night was the hit “Crier Tout Bas,” but the relentless screams of the adoring crowd brought her back out for the lighthearted fan-favourite “Comme des Enfants,” which she invited everyone to sing along: “Si tu connais les paroles, chantes. Si tu ne les connais pas, pourquoi es-tu ici?”

    Coeur de Pirate concluded the show on a high note with “Oublie-Moi,” the French version of the infectious pop hit from Roses. She took a bow with her band to deafening applause and then stood alone for a few moments, wiping tears from her eyes and cradling her heart as the crowd brought down the house with cheers.

    Coeur de Pirate has become one of Montreal’s most talented and charming exports, with multiple full-length albums and international tours under her belt. She sounded excellent live at Metropolis and put on a hell of a show—seeing her perform to a sold-out venue packed full of Montrealers was an amazing experience.

    Experiencing Coeur de Pirate live should be a rite of passage for all music lovers in the city of saints, and I have a feeling it won’t be long before she’s selling out the Bell Centre.

  • Review: Rap Trio Flatbush ZOMBiES Releases Debut Album

    • This is the first album that Flatbush ZOMBiES has dropped under their indie record label.

    The first time I ever heard about the rap group Flatbush ZOMBiES was a week or so after my friends attended a music festival in B.C. last summer.

    They saw them at the Pemberton Music Festival and spoke highly about the energy and charisma of the Brooklyn-based rap trio.

    Having grown up with these friends, I had good faith in their words, and I looked forward to the upcoming release of their new project, 3001: A Laced Odyssey.

    As soon as I first heard the lead single “Bounce,” I was already thrilled to see how this track would fit into the narrative of an LP. The electric guitar that lurks in the forefront of the song backed with a string orchestra makes for a forward-moving listen.

    It was also an appropriate track to showcase the kind of flow that Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick “The Architect” Elliott would be delivering throughout the whole project. It was totally unconventional but also versatile in the most fitting way possible for Flatbush ZOMBiES.

    With the opening track, “The Odyssey,” it’s clear that the listeners are in for quite the experience— as if watching Stanley Kubrick film of similar name, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    The song establishes the style of production that is rooted throughout the whole project. Spacey instrumentals with sizzling percussion scattered everywhere is layered with an underlying smooth bass that keeps the rhythm of the song going. The song “R.I.P.C.D.” is my personal favorite tune off the whole album and clearly stands out from the rest of the track list.

    Erick “The Architect” Elliott channels an eerily similar flow and tone of voice to that of Q-Tip, from the highly influential rap collective A Tribe Called Quest on this track, especially on the hook. Furthermore, Meechy Darko’s delivery is outstanding and extremely well executed towards the last minute and a half of the track, almost to the point of making me feel physically exhausted trying to keep up with his verse.

    At one point within his flow he sounds like he is completely out of breathe but continues to push his effort in annunciating every single last word before he finishes completely.

    At first glance of the cover of 3001: A Laced Odyssey, I was able to form some sort of an idea as to what kind of colorful production styling the trio would settle on for this project. Examples of this can be seen on the track “Smoke Break,” which offers a sedated feel with simmering high hats accompanied by a booming drum beat that feels abrasive but isn’t overbearing at all; in fact, it fits well together and makes for a pleasantly fun interlude.

    Another example of this can also be heard on the track “Fly Away,” which has a simple piano ballad playing across the duration of the track that brings upon a somber feeling. I wasn’t much of a fan of Meechy Darko on this track, who sings instead of raps over this melody, but I understand the perspective of this approach.

    The lyrical content is pretty dark as he talks about belonging in a world that he isn’t sure is real in his current state of being and how smoking weed can help him escape this confusion. The contrast of the lyrics to the instrumental are appropriately fitting.

    When it comes to lyrical content, the Flatbush ZOMBiES want to make one thing apparent and it’s that they love to use drugs. More specifically, they enjoy smoking weed and taking LSD as they navigate their way through life trying to figure out what it all means.

    The way the content is presented still makes for a fun listen but also wears out thin very quickly. By the time the record has reached it’s end with the track “Your Favorite Rap Song,” I feel like I can predict whatever subject matter they’re going to want to present to me.

    Yet on this specific track, the trio spit bars over a murky piano progression backed with a basic drum beat that makes you feel apart of the collective posse. It’s some of the best material that the LP has to offer.

    In the last five and a half minutes, the song takes a quick sharp turn with of the track being voice recordings from fans and haters alike, either praising the group for their work or dishing out insults of disinterest. This would’ve been an interesting way to end the album if it wasn’t dragged on for the entire last half of the track.

    On my first entire play through of the album I was instantly hooked onto the kinds of personalities these individuals had to offer. Even though there isn’t anything entirely new being presented to the listeners, it still feels like a fresh take on the genre of hip hop.

    It’s also worth noting that the ZOMBiES released 3001: A Laced Odyssey independently through their own label, The Glorious Dead. This means that they marketed the entire project themselves and were fully in charge of the kind of story they wanted to tell.

    With that kind of creative freedom and ability, the rap trio were able put forth a piece of work that feels truly representative of the experiences they’ve lived through growing up in the neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn.