What We've Been Listening To Lately: May

 
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What We've Been Listening To Lately: April

Written by Freddie Williamson

 

A review of music that we’ve been listening to lately. This month we take a look at Anderson .Paak’s heavily anticipated project Ventura, a new release from Loyle Carner, native Kiwi Name UL’s recent drop titled Tape 1 and more.

 
 

Anderson .Paak – Ventura

Coming on the heels of Oxnard, Paak drops his second album in six months, Ventura. This time around it feels like a much more controlled and realised project, the other side of the coin from the critically mixed reviews and grandiose production of Oxnard.

Stripped back, simplistic production really pushes Paak’s vocals to centre stage and reminds us why he’s got to where he has. His vocal performance comes correct with that signature cheeky rasp and intimacy that I haven’t heard from a lot of popular artists in recent times. Often with major label artists, it feels like you’re viewing the show – sitting in the nosebleeds looking down to the performance – but with Paak, he’s right in your ear having a conversation like that cheeky devil on your shoulder whispering “I don’t mind waiting if it don’t take too long”.

In true Paak vein, it oozes sultry soul while managing to feel contemporary and modern. Upon the opening track the drums grab your attention right away. They sound so round and warm... downright bangin! Definitely feels like a Dr Dre mix the way those drums just punch through the mix but don’t detract from Paak’s vocals. Although Ventura is and ‘Anderson .Paak’ album (where Oxnard was a ‘Dr Dre & Anderson .Paak’ album), the credits show that Dr Dre still takes the reins on the mixing front along with Focus and Lola A. Romero to make sure the album is delivered with the right amount of slap to hit home the soul.

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A really enjoyable aspect here is the pacing of the whole project. Album sequencing (order of tracks of the finished project) would be assumed to become a lost art in this age of singles and playlists, but here, the listen to Ventura from top to bottom is made all the more enjoyable with the beat switches and placement of slower tracks next to something with a bit more drive (see the switch in Reachin’ 2 Much or the transition between Yada Yada and King James). It’s finer details such as this that lead to the assumption that Ventura was put together with a clearer direction and better defined identity, a welcomed treat after the slightly underwhelming effort of Oxnard.

Favourites Tracks:
Come Home (ft. Andre 3000)
Reachin’ 2 Much (ft. Lalah Hathaway)
Twilight

 
 
 

Loyle Carner – Not Waving, But Drowning

I first was introduced to Loyle after his feature on Rejjie Snow’s breakthrough Rejovich – that unmistakable English accent and flow that runs all around the beat yet manages to catch the pocket when it needs to. Five years on, some loose singles, an album and plenty of shows later, Loyle presents Not Waving, But Drowning and although his voice is recognisable as ever, his delivery feels more comfortable like his artistry has really found its feet.

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At this point in his career, the confidence in his artistry allows him to be vulnerable throughout and very personal. It takes you through the love he holds for his mother, his love for cooking (Ottolenghi and Carluccio are named after renowned cooks Yotam Ottolenghi and Antonio Carluccio) and recognition of the importance of family. All this delivered over beautifully reserved boom bap and sample heavy hip hop, it’s a really easy listen from top to bottom and probably no mistake that it feels like it’d be a great cooking album.

Great features from New Zealand’s artist-of-the-moment Jordan Rakei, Sampha, Tom Misch and fellow Mercury Prize nominee Jorja Smith provide a nice flavour next to Carner’s steady raps. Opened and closed with a poem read by Loyle to his mother and the reciprocal makes this album feel very complete – a great example of a piece of art where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Favourite Tracks:
Desoleil (Brilliant Corners) ft. Sampha
Looking Back

 
 
 
 

Name UL – Tape 1

We receive Name UL’s first full length project since the NZ rapper’s move to London, UK. On the back of 2018’s DONT4GETME and double single 4 Days, Tape 1 is almost entirely a New Zealand affair. Fellow KWOE member Heist handles the majority of the production (as himself and as one half of Captain Cooks with Denz 1) along with some cameo’s from Baccyard, Mihai Sictir and a solo Denz 1. With just one feature from Khariis, Tape 1 is definitely a showcase for Name UL to show how much he’s grown since the move.

Opening with the dusty drums of The Leap points to UL’s influence from the golden age of ‘90s hip hop and suggests a willingness to not get pigeon-holed as a ‘trap rapper’ and show that he’s confident of standing behind his own bars rather than solely focused on trying to make the next hit. The mixture of old and new influence is welcomed on this tape that feels like the rapper is beginning to form an idea of who Name UL the artist is – throughout, the influence of trailblazing rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake and the late Mac Miller is very apparent, but the excitement comes from starting to hear how this influence melds with his own personality to shape a unique rapper.

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On the technical side, the mix of the tape makes it feel like it’s close to the original source and holds that ‘independent rapper making it on his own’ feeling. It feels like a pure expression of where he’s at currently without the influence of too many outsiders. The most exciting track on the album comes in the form of Red Dot, where Captain Cooks turns in an introspective, choppy, murky beat that provides UL has the space to flex the more melodic side of his vocal with subtle harmonies on the chorus. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, it’s a project that points to an artist that’s on the verge of hitting his stride while feeding the fans  new material to bump in the living room or the whip.

Favourite Tracks:
Estate
Red Dot
Lois

 
 

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Various Artists – 3024-FYE3

Martyn’s 3024 label has been one to watch since its inception in 2007. Recent releases featuring one of the most exciting talents coming out of UK, Yak, and another Various Artist EP featuring the likes of Baltra and Martyn himself have been hot as can be, and this release from the label is just as exciting.

Big UK vibrations and top shelf sound design tie this four–track EP together. It’s sparse and echoes feelings from an atmospheric club, creating a moody experience but one that is driven by the percussion and bottom end to give any sound system a solid workout. The A-side sees label boss Martyn deliver a rock solid opener, heavy percussive and syncopated track that is complemented with comparably gentle chords, acting as the glue for the percussion to work around and set the tone for the project. The A2 sees NKC take the idea of percussive, syncopated rhythms and go even further with Honest Drums. Almost completely devoid of a melody to latch onto, it’s a cauldron of textures and rhythms that’ll reach out and grab you if you’re not adequately prepared. Really clever of the treatment of sounds between sections, NKC does well to hold the interest and deliver and sharp 4:34 minute melter.

Opening up the B-side is Jacques Greene, who turns in a more melodically focused club track than what you hear on the flip. Still aligned with the atmospheric feeling of the first two tracks, it feels like more of a vessel that could be used to take a DJ set in a new direction – a good ‘turning point’ track, if you will. Really enjoyable to hear an A-side and B-side sounding distinctly different, yet all add to rounding out an EP that is as cohesive as it is interesting and enjoyable. Finally, Djoser brings us home with Wera that sounds like the result of mixing a Hugo Jay track with LSD and a sprinkle of Yak and Tessela. A rolling bass is juxtaposed next to tonal mallets that take you on an mind-melding trip through a broad range of influences. One for the more leftfield ears out there and a wavy end to a really strong EP. Expect nothing less from 3024.

Favourite Tracks:
Recon
Wera

 
 
 

Various Artists – Select AK Cuts 2

New Zealand based Heat Rockers Records turns in their eighth release with a selection of Auckland based producers Fiend X, label head Jerry Tompkins, Lunar, Crunchymp3 and DJ Talk for their second instalment of Select AK Cuts. Said to have a common tone of “dark chords and driving drum beats”, Fiend X kicks us off with Bluey Track that sucks you in with flangey percussion and the excellently placed vocal “...just think about it”. A hella vibey midtempo opener that would work just as well in a heady club setting as it would for late night/early morning lounge sessions.

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Night Drive comes next which picks up the pace and takes us somewhere in between a soul-tinged house track and the gentle side of melodic techno. Over the course of six minutes it seems to suggest three ideas that come together and round out with the initial bassline we heard at the beginning of the track. This segways into the third track, Stars, Moonlight and You by Lunar who turns in a cloudy house joint with an ever prominent 808 cowbell that adds a nice percussive touchstone amidst the atmos. The distinctive DJ Talk flavour provides that wonky feeling and distorted texture, which evokes a raw, imperfect human feeling that provides a nice counter to the straight-ness of the other four tracks. Rounding us out with an ambient house number is Crunchymp3 (who also handles the mastering duties for Heat Rockers), who submits an eight minute journey of hypnotising samples underpinned by that 4/4 kick to anchor the trip.

A light-shedding look into the up-and-comers of the Auckland electronic scene shows promise mixed with energetic youth and points to a healthy and vibrant underground dance movement. Looking forward to future releases on Heat Rockers Records!

Favourite Tracks:
Bluey Track
Dropped a Quid

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