Oceans Ate Alaska – Hikari

Ladies and djentleman, I present to you…Hikari—a viable candidate album of the year. No, I do not say that lightly. Oceans Ate Alaska perfect their highly feral yet incredibly polished progressive metalcore sound on Hikari. It is on this album that this band reaches its pinnacle in creativity, quality, and uniqueness.

Few bands can juggle heaviness and melody as well as Oceans Ate Alaska, and Hikari is a prime example of how to do it. On previous releases, the melodic moments seemed somewhat out of place in some moments. Yet Oceans Ate Alaska was able to coalesce the softer elements of their sound with their heavier ones with such smoothness (the perfect culmination of this heavy/soft blend being their track “Hansha”). This is a huge highlight of Hikari because OAA has a heavily jarring sound on the surface. I remember when I first listened to their previous album that I was constantly scratching my head, wondering how I was supposed to head bang to any of it (this is not a knock on the band; they are just really good with being technical). So I know from experience that this band can be hard to sonically digest. However, Oceans Ate Alaska crafted Hikari with such prowess and awareness that the album doesn’t play out as a tough listen. It’s polished and pristine, all while maintaining its blistering progressive sound.

A vital factor in this album being so phenomenal and polished is the new vocalist Jake Noakes. Like the previous vocalist, Noakes handles both the clean and unclean vocals; however, Noakes is essential for OAA’s polished sound. A talented vocalist overall, Noakes’ clean vocals are what allow the band to reach new heights. Noakes hits notes with a smooth deliciousness that was absent on previous releases. And to witness him balancing both clean and unclean vocals with apparent ease is admirable.

The Japanese theme imbues the album with positive results. The Japanese instrumentation serves not only as a testament to the band’s uniqueness but their willingness to experiment with different sounds. “Veridical” is the poster child for OAA’s implementation of Japanese instruments.

Apart from the additional Japanese instrumentation, Oceans Ate Alaska continued to bring the technical heaviness fans have come to expect. From frenetic riffs to dissonant chords and complex chugging, OAA creatively wanders the sonic spectrum, crafting memorable tracks each distinct from the next. “Benzaiten” is the first track on the album, and it introduces the Japanese vibe and the ridiculous technicality that diffuses throughout the entire album. The constant tempo changes are unbelievable (2:24 on “Benzaiten”, for example), but are not unique to just this track. Each song has phenomenal sections where time signatures and tempo shift in the most fluid way possible.

This album was literal perfection and will serve as legit evidence as to why Oceans Ate Alaska is one of the best bands currently in the scene. Hikari is a masterpiece that fluctuates along the sonic spectrum with technical grace and clear purpose, further cementing Oceans Ate Alaska’s signature sound.

10/10

Top vybes: “Hansha”, “Deadweight”, “Birth-Marked”, “Escapist”

For those who vybe to: Veil of Maya, Erra

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1

If anyone was going to drop the album of summer ’17, it would be Calvin Harris. With three wavy singles that caught fire immediately, Calvin Harris had listeners feeling the summer before it even arrived. “Slide” and “Feels” are ruling the airwaves while “Rollin” has been more quiet, but still banging. But like all artists who drop a bevy of exceptional singles, does Calvin Harris succeed in dropping the summer album of the year or is it a forgettable record with simply the singles to play over and over?

For me, Calvin Harris succeeds in delivering an exceptional album in Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. The masterful recruitment of all-star features takes the album to another level. However, at the base of the song is the funky electronic production that is top-notch and extremely unique to Calvin Harris’ previous work. I’m more impressed by his ability to make the funk- and disco-flavored EDM work perfectly with each featured artist than the featured artists dominating their respective beats. The album is fresh, cohesive, and truly wavy. The title of the album is no ruse; it’s the real thing.

Calvin Harris succeeded in bringing together all-star talent on a record destined to rule the summer unlike DJ Khaled with his Grateful. DJ Khaled’s album was too drawn out with 23 tracks while Harris’ album was concise with 10 tracks. DJ Khaled’s album ended up being 90 percent filler, while Calvin Harris’ album has bangers throughout. In this case, Calvin Harris’ album felt more thought out and intentional, and as a result it exceeds expectations.

Tracks like “Slide”, “Cash Out”, and “Prayers Up” are phenomenal and stand out the most. “Slide” features Frank Ocean and Migos, and it shouldn’t work but it works extremely well. ScHoolboy Q dominates “Cash Out”, flowing smoothly through the verses like a complete boss. PARTYNEXTDOOR and D.R.A.M. ensure that the song is even more catchy. “Prayers Up” is included in some of my favorites because I didn’t expect Travis Scott to kill the track. The track goes and Travis Scott is a big part in why.

Only two songs fell flat for me. “Skrt On Me” is the dancehall track that features Nicki Minaj drenched in autotune. The song isn’t terrible; in fact, I enjoy it. What I don’t enjoy is Nicki Minaj’s voice being buttered up with autotune. As far as I’m concerned, she cannot sing and simply raps. Therefore, I wish Harris’ had recruited someone else for the verses and chorus and let Nicki Minaj simply handle the rapping on the bridge. Literally anyone who could sing without autotune could have carried that track more than Nicki. The second track that I just don’t like at all is the final track “Hard to Love”. It features Jessie Reyez, who I have never heard of before and will not hear more of in the future. The song itself is forgettable and Reyez doesn’t do anything outstanding for the track which is actually has dull production compared to the rest of the album.

Overall, the record is great and will be the soundtrack of the summer. It’s concise, cohesive, and catchy, and showcases Calvin’s forward approach to EDM and the potential of collaborations being done right. Calvin Harris understands that the only way to move EDM forward is to blend it with other influences such as the 80s and modern rap and pop. Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is funky, wavy, bouncy, and will be on repeat throughout the summer.

Top vybes: “Slide”, “Cash Out”, “Rollin”, “Prayers Up”

Not vybes: “Hard to Love”

For those who vybe to: anything on Top 40 radio

 

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

At this present moment, rap is composed of Kendrick Lamar, the typical trap that saturates the mainstream like Future and Migos,  and the budding underground scene like Xxxtentacion and Lil Pump. However, with his latest album Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples makes it impossible to put him in either category. He brings something entirely fresh and innovative to the table. The amount of experimentation on this album is at maximum level, and it maximizes how amazing the album is.

Vince Staples is a true lyricist with an off-base sound evident on previous projects. He’s put himself in the conversation of top new school rappers. However, he is still highly underrated since he is not as mainstream as phenomenal lyricists like Kendrick Lamar. Especially in the state that rap is in right now where its more about flow and how lit the track is, talented and forward-thinking artists like Vince unfortunately get overlooked by many. However, Big Fish Theory stands out from the noise.

The production on the album is the foundation of this album. It’s experimental, odd, stellar, and extremely vibey despite not being the typical beats you tend to hear. That’s why this record stands out big time. It sounds like nothing else—just Vince. Staples has collaborated with future-bass producer Flume on the latter’s own track “Smoke and Retribution”, and it seems to have inspired the whole sound of Big Fish Theory. Flume’s production is phenomenal and unusual, and it’s surprising to find that he actually only produced one track on it. Overall, the album is well-produced and abnormally experimental. Some compare it’s eccentricity to Yeezus by Kanye West (Vince’s “Homage” and Kanye’s “New Slaves” are roughly similar), and, though that may be the closest thing to it, Big Fish Theory is a different species.

This experimental sound allows for Vince’s lyricism to get highlighted and underlined. Vince is truly a genius with the pen, and he continues to weave rhymes, word play, and story together while maintaining enough flow to make it all work.

Vince only featured a few artists on this album, and it was the best artists he could possibly ask to feature. Kendrick Lamar and KUCKA lend their vocals to the Flume and SOPHIE-produced track “Yeah Right”. Ultimately this is the most unexpected dream team ever, and they coalesce to create the best song on the album (which needs a music video ASAP). Vince collaborated with Kilo Kish previously, and she can be found on multiple songs. Vince brought Damon Albarn from Gorillaz on “Love Can Be…” and A$AP Rocky on “SAMO”. Ty Dolla Sign murders the hook on “Rain Come Down”, which is the concluding track to the mind-blowing project.

Overall, Big Fish Theory is exceptional. Artists can get daunted by experimenting with different sounds, but Vince took the challenge and it paid off. Vince Staples was eccentric before, and now he’s reached a new level. And it is the best thing that could have happened. Big Fish Theory cements Vince’s name in the conversation for top 10 of new school rappers.

Top vybes: “Yeah Right”, “745”, “BagBak”, “Homage”

For those who vybe to: Earl Sweatshirt and A$AP Rocky

Terror Jr – Bop City 2: TerroRising

Pop music is very formulaic. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. Basic lyrics about the same things. Not much creativity in general. So when Terror Jr came onto the scene with a fresh slant on pop music, I was hooked. Following up their first album with Bop City 2: TerroRising, Terror Jr continued to bring the jolly vibes that separate them from the run of the mill pop stars.

Bop City 2 is a masterpiece. It doesn’t lack in lyrics, vocals, production, structure, innovation, or execution. It is an inventive pop album with slick production from Felix Snow, a member of the trio who works heavily with glitch pop star Kiiara. It his signature production that truly distinguishes Terror Jr. The production is simplistic, minimalist, and airy. This allows for singer Lisa Vitale to effortlessly deliver her ethereal vocals. The production fits her voice and her voice fits the production, working tag team to create a dynamic that leaves its mark on the listener.

In terms of lyrics, Terror Jr always comes through with some well-penned lines. “Caramel” is a prime example of a song with substance. Touching upon topics like plastic surgery, homosexuality, racism, and religion, “Caramel” is gold when it comes to lyrics. Terror Jr not only penned meaningful songs, but also a ton of memorable lines that just click. The track “Sweatpants” has a memorable chorus that begs to be echoed at the top of lungs. Moreover, “Heartbreaks” is perfectly penned song, complimented strongly by Lisa’s effortless flow.

One concern I had as I impatiently waited for the album was that the songs would all sound too similar. Terror Jr has a very specific sound that couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else honestly, but I was afraid to fall upon an album that would be the same song with different lyrics. However, I was pleased to find that each song was different and offered something different to the overall album. And with each song standing out on its own, it ultimately leads to an album with maximum replayability.

The sugary sound of Terror Jr is overwhelming and underappreciated. Bop City 2 is not only a mature sequel but the band’s warning that they are going to take over pop with their fresh, inventive sound marked by real lyrics, stellar ethereal production, and airy vocals.

Vybes like: Terror Jr , Kiiara

Top vybes: Smoke, Sweatpants, Caramel, Heartbreaks

 

Calvin Harris, Pvris, The Plot In You

“Feels” – Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris will have the best album of the summer and the whole year—quote me. The evidence is in his singles off his upcoming release Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, due June 23rd. The latest of these singles “Feels” continues in the same fashion as the other singles. Calvin Harris is combining fantastical collaborations with extra groovy funk-inspired EDM. “Feels” features Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean, each artist adding an extra layer of artistry on this track. The production is phenomenal, truly mixing the funky vibes with modern anthems without being over-the-top. It’s impossible to miss how summery this and the other singles are which only hints more at the fact that Calvin Harris is taking over the summer. My favorite facet of “Feels” is that each artist adds a different flavor on top the stellar, slow-burning production.

“What’s Wrong” – Pvris

As if to prove that Pvris can do no wrong, they drop a new single titled “What’s Wrong”, and in fact there is nothing wrong with this song. Pvris does everything right on this track. To mix brooding lyrics with powerfully, subtle instrumentation for the result of an infectious alt-rock anthem is a showcase of outstanding musicianship. Lynn Gunn continues to deliver amazing vocals, and it is during the bridge where you can truly feel the riveting emotion that she brings. Pvris is a stand-out band for me because they don’t go overboard with their sound. They deliver darkly-tinged atmospheric tracks that don’t sacrifice infectiousness or simplicity. “What’s Wrong” is a testament to that and is further proof that Pvris will drop a phenomenal sophomore album due on August 4th.

“Feel Nothing” – The Plot In You

The Plot In You dropped “Feel Nothing” to announce their signing with the stacked Fearless Records. Despite its title, this track makes you feel everything. From the despondently dark instruments to the emotional, gritty vocals, this track is extremely powerful. This band has been amazing for quite some time, especially after their last record Happiness in Self Destruction, but they continue to display maturity in growth, evident on “Feel Nothing”. It’s polished, mature, and extremely well-structured—ultimately allowing for this song to hit harder than ever. The way the softly crooned verse simmers slowly into the potent chorus is remarkable and unforgettable. One simply cannot listen this song and not feel anything. The Plot In You killed this track, and in turn fans will kill the replay button.