Migos - Culture II

Sequels are tough. Sometimes, they will discover new ground, actually producing a result superior to the original: Godfather Part II, Terminator 2. But mostly, sequels end up a cheap, reactive imitation of the original.

A lot has changed for Migos since the first “Culture” came out a year ago. At one point in the summer, Quavo featured on 10 percent of the Billboard Top 100. He worked with pop stars including Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Liam Payne, each effort lazier than the previous. He also released the half-baked disappointment “HUNCHO JACK” with Travis Scott.

Offset emerged as the most proficient rapper in the group. His album “Without Warning” with 21 Savage and Metro Boomin was one of the most captivating projects last year, and he delivered killer verses on “Met Gala” by Gucci Mane and “Patek Water” by Future and Young Thug. He also got engaged to rap anomaly Cardi B despite (allegedly) getting another woman pregnant.

Takeoff must have also done something in the past 12 months. One time a friend texted me, “Who got a better deal: Ringo Starr of Takeoff?” I’m still not sure.

They also said a collection of homophobic things. Quavo called the support from Atlanta’s community for Makonnen’s coming out as “wack.” Then, recently, Offset rapped on YFN Lucci’s “Boss Life” that he “cannot vibe with queers.” In both cases their publicists released apologies. Neither event seemed to impact their sales. All’s well that end’s well, right? Then again, no one batted an eye when they proclaimed they’re “Goin’ to Ch-land with the chinks!” on “Get Right Witcha.” Needless to say no one should look to them for social commentary.

It raises the question, though, should we listen to music by artists that are ignorant and hateful? Can we separate art from the artist? Let’s resume the rest of this review under the assumption that yes, in fact, we can.

The best part about the original “Culture” was that it really felt like an album. At 13 songs, it was tight and focused, boasting great songs like “T-Shirt” and “Slippery.” “Culture II,” at 24 songs, feels like another bloated mixtape. I don’t want to listen to an hour-and-45-minute album, least of all by Migos. In the age of streaming, artists sacrifice concision for more plays. Around “Flooded,” “Culture II” loses its way and the listener’s interest.

Migos pioneered the Atlanta trap sonics and the triplet flow. However, others have copied and re-copied it so much that it sounds exhausted. Nearly every song follows in the order of Quavo, Takeoff then Offset. Quavo introduces the hook and starts off the party. Takeoff carries the second act. And then Offset brings it home. After a while the cycle puts you to sleep. Whenever they deviate from this, it’s exhilarating. The high-energy boom bap of “Stir Fry,” the melodic groove of “Gang Gang” or the smooth soul sample in “Made Men” are like shots of adrenaline.

On a few songs they try out new instrumental sounds. “BBO” has horns. “Too Playa” has a nice Duke Silver saxophone. “Auto Pilot,” “White Sand,” “Movin Too Fast,” “Notice Me” all have a 90s video game sort of aesthetic. The guitar makes a couple appearances. “Emoji Chain” ends on a bizarre guitar solo. The culturally appropriative “Narcos” has a mariachi-type guitar.

Since the Migos aren’t really bringing anything to the table, each song lives or dies on the merits of its producers and features. The production is all over the place. Some of the bass drops have a low-fi 21 Savage type of feel. Others are much more polished.

Rap’s most popular producers were lined up out the door to get their tags on this album. It has the likes of Kanye West, Metro Boomin, Pharrell, Mike Dean, Murda Beats, Buddah Blessed, Zaytoven and Ricky Racks. Despite all the talent in the room, Quavo, for some godforsaken reason, executively produced the album himself.

On the second song of the album, Quavo claims “This real rap, no mumble.” The lyrics are mostly a hodgepodge of vague drug and gun imagery, discussions of how much jewelry they have, euphemisms for ejaculation, indiscernible auto tune and an oversaturation of ad-libs (MAMA!).

This probably isn’t relevant, but I hope to find someone in my life who loves me as much as Offset loves McNuggets. He references them more than he mentions his fiance Cardi B. On “Flooded” he raps “I got the socket so plug me/Solitaire, chicken McNuggets.” On “MotorSport” he raps “My pinky on margarine, butter/And my ears got McDonald’s nuggets.”

Instrumentals like “Notice Me” lend themselves to self-reflection, and at times it seems like Quavo is on the precipice of saying something profound. On “Movin Too Fast” he raps “Pop one he’ll go beast, represent the ‘land of the free’/But some of my n—-s in the cell so I don’t know what that means.” On “Top Down on Da NAWF” he raps “For some reason I can’t cry cry/For some reason I am not tired/For the gang I gotta bring it home/For my grandma watching in the sky.” Hopefully in the future he can open up more.

If you cut out “Higher We Go,” “Narcos,” “Auto Pilot,” “Emoji a Chain,” “Too Much Jewelry,” “Flooded,” “Beast,” “Open it Up,” “Movin Too Fast,” “Work Hard,” “Notice Me” “Top Down on Da NAWF” and “Culture National Anthem,” and only kept “Supastars,” “BBO,” “Walk It Talk It,” “CC,” “Stir Fry,” “Gang Gang,” “White Sand,” “Crown the Kings,” “MotorSport,” “Too Playa,” and “Made Men” then you could have a good album.

After “Dark Side of the Moon” Roger Waters wrote “Wish You Were Here” lamenting their massive success. Before they had “made it,” they were one inspired unit, determined to generate quality work and get rich and famous. Once they got it, they drifted apart, detached, distracted, wondering what they were even doing it for anymore. Quavo, Offset and Takeoff all have other stuff going on, and Migos seems to no longer be the object of what’s left of their passions.

Perhaps 2018 marks the death of the album, and henceforth the death of culture. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.

This article originally ran in the Nevada Sagebrush.

Closer - All This Will Be

For New York’s latest emo/post-hardcore outfit Closer, a chance encounter in a practice space sparked a creative partnership, and the rest is seemingly history. Firstly, its members originate from the lineup of Brooklyn-based indie stalwarts Real Life Buildings, which include Crying’s Elaiza Santos and Vagabon bandleader Lætitia Tamko. While it’s not a requirement for every emotionally raucous band to spawn from a fantastical blood oath or brutal mosh pit duel, the inception of Closer attests to their unpolished professionalism on the well-worn stage and in the home studio. Their debut off of Lauren Records, All This Will Be, dismantles the bravado set forth by Real Life Buildings’ première Significant Weather and channels its boundless passion into an original and intense work of art.

Whereas Significant Weather embodied a broad range of songwriting with hallmarks of biting power pop and modest slacker rock tossed into the fray, All This Will Be is a calculated, yet brooding change of pace. Amid Ryann Slauson’s splintering drumming and the teamwork of Griffin Irvine’s murky bass and Matthew Van Asselt’s chiming guitar, there’s a merciless finish that coats the nine cuts on their debut. From their tapered dynamics to their employment of dissonant segues to bridge tracks together, Closer pounce at every opportunity in the pursuit of evoking the raw and impassioned ethos of their hardcore superiors.

Instantaneously, the rapid-fire momentum of lead single “Gift Shop” trims their turbulent performance into a rough-hewn formula for the rest of the album to maneuver around. As a vocalist, Slauson is wrenching and guttural relative to the mania behind her pleas while her verses conjure a rift one imposes between themselves and the outside world (“All these people/And I just want/To crawl under the porch where I belong”). Equally rife with vigor but harmonically upbeat, “This Year” chronicles the convalescence from a break-up with a uniform emphasis toward loss and the prospects to come. Although Closer’s delivery recalls the strong-arm operatives of post-hardcore greats Fugazi and Unwound, the trio offsets indignation with a devastating exploration of adolescent dread.

With a trove of definitive bands in the contemporary emo circuit venturing into the canopy of indie rock as a counterpoint to brash and lawless exploits, All This Will Be is a refreshing and life-affirming return to form. Midsection highlights “Dust” and “Birdhouse” stretch their capacities past the five-minute mark with an arsenal of spoken word samples and post-rock-inspired arrangements at their disposal. The latter vacillates between hushed passages ostensibly lifted from Sunny Day Real Estate’s seminal Diary and ear-piercing climaxes marred by waves of feedback. To the contrary, fizzling bangers like “Hardly Art” and “Rec Room” encapsulate the band in the throes of confusion while keeping their composure under the brink of total collapse.

Compared to their contemporaries, Closer leans toward sincere musicianship without disavowing lackadaisical nuance. Forgoing the trend of pertinent political and societal undertakings constructing the thematics of hardcore in recent years, All This Will Be is the product of internal meditation demanding an immediate and uncensored outlet. As piercing and often unsettling as the final product may be, their antipathy is far from ungraspable. Wallowing beneath the commotion are songwriters accustomed to uncaging their ambitions and fears in brisk sweeps—only this time, the setting is natural and the effect is consistently engaging.

Alvvays - Antisocialites

Alvvays channeled the bane of youth on their self-titled 2014 debut. “Too late to go out/Too young to stay in,” singer/guitarist Molly Rankin bemoaned on “Archie, Marry Me,” cementing herself as the voice for preoccupied twenty-somethings who feel like the first generation to experience quarter-life-crises all on their own. Three years later, Alvvays’s newest release Antisocialites sees Rankin and company still feeling preoccupied, but this time, the crossroads between commitment and abandonment, nostalgia and uncertainty are textually more defined and far more intimate as Rankin catalogues broken promises and painful choices.

Much of Antisocialites is engaged in a larger struggle to pin down what, exactly, happiness is—at least for now, at a point in life when true adulthood starts to meet reality and aging suddenly becomes a creeping thought, consciously or not. Sometimes Rankin looks for contentedness in simple routines. “Meditate, play solitaire, take up self defense,” she sings on lead single “In Undertow.” These small acts of control help stave off the dread of growing old, or just growing up in general, but not for long as Rankin asks in the very next line, “When you get old and faded out will you want your friends?”

Other times, Rankin wonders if lovers might ease some of this anxiety, mostly finding that they just add to it. On the punchy and distorted “Your Type” she laments a crush that leaves her feeling lonely, “I die on the inside every time/You will never be all right/I will never be your type.” Songs like “In Undertow” and “Your Type” are as much homages to 60s romances as they are send-ups to the submission and loneliness that underlies many hits within that era of early bubblegum pop. But Alvvays is able to place that feeling in the present. “I can’t buy-in to psychology/And won’t rely on your mood for anything,” Rankin coos before the chorus of “In Undertow,” highlighting her ability to tap into the frustration of love at a time when there are myriad ways to “know” how someone feels, most of which seem like open-ended pseudoscience.

Musically, you’ll find Antisocialites highlights Rankin and lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley’s ability to write using musical cues beyond vaguely alluding to their influences here-and-there. Rankin takes on the indignantly cool attitude that plagues indie music on “Plimsoll Punks” singing, “Your postures blocking out any possible light/I can hardly see … You’re the seashell in my sandal/That’s slicing up my heel.” Over this, O’Hanley’s standout guitar work plays with song structure, calling and responding by inverting earlier musical motifs in the song as the second chorus comes along. It’s cheeky, and you can feel the “See what I did there?” moment coming from O’Hanley, but it adds to the playfulness of Antisocialites, which feels like such a rare quality beyond just indie rock when its pulled of as expertly as it is here.

Ultimately, Antisocialites is for anyone who knows the power struggle between what we feel and what we want to feel. Rankin plays it like she’s losing this game for much of the album, but she knows better than to leave the listener so low. In the album’s finale “Forget About Life” she calls a truce with her bleak outlook on relationships and adulthood. Letting out a gentle, but nonetheless celebratory “woo” she asks, “Underneath this flickering light/Did you wanna forget about life with me tonight?” It’s a complicated question for a complicated relationship, but Rankin knows it’s at least possible.