Author: Dan Vesper

Frankie Smooches – In All Honesty

Frankie Smooches
In All Honesty
Glorious Records
Street: 11.01
Frankie Smooches = Radio-era LL Cool J – Rick Rubin

Remember “Summertime” by Will Smith? It’s aged better than you think it has. DJ Jazzy Jeff was/is a brilliant beatmaker and Smith, even though he was the world’s safest MC, knew how to lay down a hook. In any case, that’s what Frankie Smooches reminds me of—Fresh Prince but without a decent DJ. There’s some good stuff here. “How To Make It” (feat. Remdizzle) is a lighthearted, Motown-influenced affair that bounces along quite nicely. Then there are tracks like “Treated Myself” (feat. Remdizzle), which samples Booker T. & the M.G.’s’ “Sunny” to the point of plagiarism and comes off like it’s trying to make fun of ’60s soul music—one of the richest traditions in American music—so what the fuck, dude? Smooches’ strong personality is his greatest asset, and when he’s on, he’s great. When he’s not, I want to huck it across the room. –Dan Vesper


WE – WE-E.T.’s VOL. II

Street: 09.26
WE = Joey Bada$$ + 1995 Raekwon
I don’t get to say this often enough about local rap albums, especially ones inspired by Dragon Ball Z, but this one is awesome. Piccolo’s world-class production takes a cue from RZA’s early lo-fi work and improves it with the crate-digging prowess of J Dilla. For most of the album, it’s difficult to know who’s rapping because no feature artists are listed. But on songs like “Crusin’” and “Snakes,” I’m left with one thought: These Dine Krew motherfuckers have something few MCs in town possess—soul. My biggest quibble is the shortage of memorable choruses, and they do tend to emulate their idols more than they need to—at one point trying to rhyme “sarcophagus” in a questionable nod to Kanye. Luckily, their shortcomings are easy to forgive with beats this righteous and a flow this tight. Most impressive, though, is that they’ve proven that vital hip-hop is possible in Utah. –Dan Vesper

Break The Spell
Sound Vs. Silence
Street: 11.12.13
Null = Occupy Wall Street Drum Circle + 2014 Vanilla Ice
I don’t know how to react to shit this wack. It’s rap/punk made by Tyler Lusk, who just started making music, and it shows. Sadly, the beats sound like a 12-year-old made them and the nonstop protest slogans are puerile at best. This stuff was groan-inducing the first time I heard it, strolling through Zuccotti Park a few years back. (I think I have a hand signal to show how much I like it, too.) “No racism, no sexism, no classism, smash capitalism!” he scolds, off time. It’s not that Lusk’s politics are objectionable, they’re just not insightful—or fun. Hip-hop can be perilous for white folks, but I do admire Lusk’s passion. I hope he keeps on it and comes correct next time. I suggest spending some QT with The Neptunes discography—Mystikal’s “Bouncin’ Back,” would be a great place to start. –Dan Vesper
Morning Phase
Capitol Records
Street: 02.25
Beck = Glen Campbell / Nick Drake
Beck, once pop music’s most reliable shape-shifter, now finds himself compelled to rehash his past glories; namely Sea Change. If you ever wanted him to make that record again, your prayers have been answered. Be forewarned, the old adage about wishes rings as true here as it ever has. Everything, from the overly-compressed acoustic guitar, to the syrupy strings, right down to the feigned depression and chord progressions, have been replicated here in their entirety—with massively diminished returns. That said, this record is not useless. I can speak from personal experience that it cures even the most stubborn insomnia quite speedily, and for that I applaud Beck on his remarkable contribution to science. –Dan Vesper
Chris Gatsby
Middleground: Morals & Money
Street: 01.21
Chris Gatsby = Gang Starr – (MC Guru + DJ Premier)
“Hip-hop barely breathing, I’m that fresh breath,” raps Chris Gatsby in a song aptly called “Reckless.” Both sentiments are bullshit. It may not be 1993 anymore, but there’s a lot to like about hip-hop these days. Additionally, Gatsby’s resistance to change is a big part of what robs this album of relevance. “I’m not one of these new cats rockin’ skinny jeans,” he boasts on “Clap Your Hands.” Agreed. This lame attempt at a dis on the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown and Chance the Rapper underscores the fact that he can’t step to them. Sad, especially coming from a guy who only has one flow, and a tired one at that. It’s not that Gatsby didn’t put any thought into his music, it’s just that his thoughts need to be reconsidered. Also, I really hope he didn’t break the bank for this third-rate Statik Selektah beat. –Dan Vesper

Cities Aviv
Come To Life
Young One
Street: 01.28
Cities Aviv = (Black Flag + Common) / Technotronic
I don’t know if Gavin Mays, the man behind Cities Aviv, is trying to rap. All I know is it’s pretty fucking clear that he can’t. He produces really cool beats, though, and that makes up for a lot. Come To Life is by no means bad. It is, nevertheless, deeply indebted to Death Grips (with whom Cities Aviv has toured). Mays is slowly carving out his own niche and the frantic, late-’80s influenced beats here are neither as hard nor as desperate as Death Grips, but easier to digest. While the result isn’t terribly memorable, there are a few bangers. Early single “URL IRL” packs the biggest punch. Listen closely, however, and you’ll discover Mays isn’t saying much worth pondering. I fear his lyrics aren’t evocative because he has nothing to evoke. “Do you know what’s good?” he barks in the chorus. I do actually, and this is just OK. –Dan Vesper

Isaiah Rashad
Cilvia Demo
Top Dawg Entertainment
Street: 01.28
Isaiah Rashad = Schoolboy Q + Odd Future
Thanks to artists like Drake and Earl Sweatshirt, the pressure for rappers to front like they’re hardened sociopaths has eased dramatically. Hip-hop as therapy is the style of the day. For better or worse, Isaiah Rashad is no exception. Right off the bat he raps, “My daddy taught me how to drink my pain away / (he) taught me how to leave somebody,” as if these were good things. Yet by the end of Cilvia Demo, you realize Rashad is far too clever to be that one-dimensional. Rashad takes his father’s abandonment and turns it into a moral imperative—a move that could have been trite in hands of a lesser MC. This, however, is a daring labor of love by a very gifted young man. These strong but flawed songs creep into your soul without you even realizing it—the same way that forgiveness can. –Dan Vesper
Sun Kil Moon
Caldo Verde Records
Street: 02.04
Sun Kil Moon = Neil Young + Mark Lanegan
Mark Kozelek has made a record so confrontational and real, you have to admire it even when it’s a bit much. It’s about how the things that seem “uncool” in life are often what make it worthwhile—a bold, artistic vision that can be a real bummer, honestly. He confronts some heavy shit: the emotional pain of a disabled girl who will never know love, his guilt for taking his grandmother for granted, even his friendship with Ben Gibbard. Still, when it works, it’s uncommonly touching. “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love,” is torturously effective. Within, Kozelek openly struggles with his mother’s mortality, “My mother is 75 she’s the closest friend I have in my life / Take her from me I’ll break down and bawl and wither away like old leaves in the fall.” If that doesn’t choke you up, you and I aren’t friends. –Dan Vesper
The War On Drugs

Lost In The Dream

Secretly Canadian

Street: 03.18

The War On Drugs = Tom Petty + Brian Eno

Perhaps you’ve never gotten into the Bon Ivers and Fleet Foxes of the world. Fair enough: They tend to be a bit precious. That said, if you check this one out, you might be pleasantly surprised. It suffers from none of the limp-dicked wounded troubadour shit so loathable in most indie Americana. Perhaps the most befuddling part of this album’s success, though, is that WOD haven’t made the slightest effort to revamp their sound since 2011’s excellent Slave Ambient. If anything, they’ve doubled-down on their Boss and Dylan worship. Sure, it sounds like a yawn fest on paper—all I know is, once I start playing this, I’m listening to the whole thing. This superb record is a testament to the power of good ol’ fashioned songwriting (and having a good drummer). Every cut splits the jugular. If there’s been a more glorious record this year, I haven’t heard it. –Dan Vesper
Neneh Cherry

Blank Project

Smalltown Supersound

Street: 02.25

Neneh Cherry = Tricky + Ani DiFranco

You might be surprised to know that Neneh Cherry’s 1988 record, Raw Like Sushi, is bad as fuck. Still, I’m not losing my cool over the prospect of a new record by her. When I heard that Four Tet was producing it, though, that piqued my interest. In retrospect, I should have known better. Cherry didn’t go 15 years without making an album because she was bursting with creative energy. Blank Project doesn’t do her legacy any favors. While Cherry does seem to have a lot to get off her chest, none of it is presented in a compelling way. To put it bluntly, Cherry is no longer a charismatic vocalist. Four Tet responds appropriately by not wasting any otherwise valuable beats on this misguided, hookless enterprise. Not only are there no moments here worth remembering, after several spins, there isn’t anything I could recall even if I wanted to. –Dan Vesper