Welcome to 3nd edition of 1st listen reviews (which sometimes are 2nd or 3rd listen reviews lmao). These articles will be a compilation of mini 1st-listen album reviews (regardless if they’re old or new) that I do on Twitter, just so my readers here won’t miss out on the content that do over there.
This time around I looked at Playboi Carti’s great new album, a slightly underwhelming Jazmin Bean EP and a couple of older projects from Wale, Mitski and Jaden.
Playboi Carti – WHOLE LOTTA RED
Playboi Carti has always been an artist that relies on the production as much as it relies on him. S/T and Die Lit both employed producers that took established trap elements and adapted them to Carti’s vision of a synth-heavy sound.
Whole Lotta Red tries to emulate the same vibe but the new batch of producers just couldn’t match the magic of Pierre Bourne and co. His older production was layered – the synths would work in tandem with the hi-hats and drums so each element could support each other and pop out more. They were dense, compact and felt ‘organic’.
Red, on the other hand, feels shallow. The mixing in the production often favours one element over the other – sometimes the trap drums and hi-hats drown everything out; other times the synths take centre stage and serve as the track’s main melody. It just doesn’t have the same chemistry that the older production had, which lessens the impact of many songs on here.
However, the saving grace of WLR is Carti himself. His performances are incredible as the versatility in his voice is toned up to a 100. I’m glad he didn’t stick to the baby voice that gained popularity off “Pissy Pamper”. Instead we have a Carti who can go from melodic to aggressive at the flip of a switch, and I think that’s an incredible evolution for him as an artist.
It’s still a very enjoyable album and a comfortable sign that Playboi Carti doesn’t need great beats to sound good anymore. All he needs to do right now is work on production, then I’m confident he’ll be able to deliver another trap classic.
Wale – Wow…That’s Crazy
This is pretty much everything I expect from a Wale album released in 2019. Outdated pop-rap song structures, weird genre detours (dancehall, trap) that are out of place on the tracklist, and very charismatic rapping.
Nothing on this album surprised me and I don’t even listen to Wale that often.
He’s always felt like a rapper that hasn’t been able to find his own lane since his debut Attention Deficit. Does he want to hop up the mainstream as a pop-rapper? Or does he want to stay in touch with his underground roots? Or what if he finally aims to embrace the abrasive MMG sound?
It always feels like he can never pick one and decided to try his hand at everything. Wow…That’s Crazy suffers from this because it just sounds like an album Wale could have made in his sleep.
It’s still enjoyable but in the grand scheme of things, it’s ends up feeling so safe that there’s little reason for me to revisit.
Mitski – Retired From Sad, New Career in Business
I’ve never been a huge fan of stripped back singer-songwriter albums but boy, did Retired From Sad, New Career in Business blow me away.
The production on each song is either just a piano or guitar, with the jazz-like playing (or at least eccentric if I’m wrong about the genre) sharing the spotlight alongside Mitski’s slower and more subdued performances.
I haven’t fully delved into the lyrics yet but Mitski’s singing is more than captivating enough to hold my attention. She weaves in between the instrumentals, exuding the bravado of a jazz club singer who’s in a friendly tug of war with her accompanying musician.
I’m already loving this album.
Jaden – The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story
There was a time when Jaden’s music was fun and exciting. His first Cool Tapes mixtape was just that with its psychedelic yet still pop-leaning production, while his bars were both witty and raw.
His newer material lost these qualities completely as he matured in his sound, trading them in for contemporary beats and drab lyricism.
As you can tell I’m not a huge fan but I still wanted to give The Sunset Tapes a shot since, for some reason, it’s his only project that I missed out on. And well…I still don’t like his music.
Drenching his vocals in auto tune and reverb, his already comatose delivery is 10x more soulless. There’s the occasional catchy chorus but the verses are so inconsequential that the songs’ magic wears thin real quick.
The rap-heavy cuts are the best tracks on here though since they’re a nice respite amongst the monotony. But they’re also fairly standard trap bangers that wouldn’t really hold a candle to its contemporaries outside the context of the album.
Ultimately, this album feels like I’m watching paint dry but with a saturated Instagram filter slapped on top.
Jazmin Bean – Worldwide Torture
Ok so I usually don’t like to make outright comparisons between 2 albums but the similarities between Worldwide Torture and Poppy’s I Disagree are a bit too extensive for me to not do so.
The biggest difference between the two is Jazmin Bean tapping into more trap metal production rather than pure metal instrumentals (though there’s still a number of tracks that have this sound). They also switch between bubblegum pop and abrasive metal performances at the drop of a hat, although not as effectively as Poppy’s.
The biggest gripe I have with Torture is how Jazmin’s more assertive verses are always muffled by static vocal effects, which completely robs any urgency away from their music. It leaves the production to do the heavy lifting while they ends up a bystander on their own songs.
Other than the aggressive cuts, many of the songs on here are a bit…boring. They remind of Billie Eilish’s reverb-heavy stuff from WWAFAWDWG, but without the captivating vocals or choruses to keep me hooked.
There are a lot of elements that I like on the album – Jazmin’s eccentricity, the versatility in the production; but everything on Torture just feels like they’re being held back for some reason. They aren’t as loud and unhinged as I feel they could be, while the production doesn’t burst with energy as much as it hints that it would.
Overall, the project sounds like an appetiser where Jazmin is holding off from showing us their best work, leaving an impression that’s a bit more muted than I’d like it to be.