Danny Brown Gets Personal on New Album

There aren’t many rappers whose favorite band is Arcade Fire, who record songs with Insane Clown Posse, or who flirt incessantly with Kathy Griffin, but Danny Brown is that rapper. As a 32-year-old rapper Brown told The Guardian, the title Old is not referring to his age but actually to the fact that he’s been around so long in the rap game, and like the song “Side A” says, older fans want “that old Danny Brown” back.

The “old Danny Brown” first surfaced as a member of the group Reser’vor Dogs in the mid-2000s before releasing his mixtape, Detroit State of Mind, and going on to record The Hybrid and XXX. With Old, Brown brings a new spirit and style to rap using increasingly alternative beats and samples that make it a strong candidate for multiple listens while simultaneously setting a higher standard for hip-hop from here on out.

Brown hails from Detroit, the city that has produced venerated lyricists such as Eminem and Royce Da 5’9”. But Brown isn’t nearly as serious as his Motor City contemporaries. He can most commonly be seen posing for photos with his tongue out and showing off his missing tooth — and as wild as his appearance might be, his lyrics and delivery match up to the hype.

Side A of the album gives fans “that old Danny Brown” and features a deep look into his past in Detroit where he witnessed a lot of violence, drug use and eventually began selling drugs. On “25 Bucks,” Brown spits impressively intricate rhymes about trying to make a few dollars. This track features beats and vocals from Canadian electro-pop act Purity Ring, who previously featured Brown on a remix of their song “Belispeak II.”

Specifically on “Torture,” he paints a picture of a memory in Detroit and depicts his desensitization to violence in a lower, downcast voice than what listeners are used to. He says, he “was like f-cking 7-years old / When I first seen a fiend try to light a rock off the stove.” In “Gremlins,” Brown recalls hustling becoming repetitive and how “school becomes a free meal / street becomes a cheap thrill.”

He gets personal on the first half of the album, even mentioning a daughter, referring to the child his high school girlfriend had with someone else but Brown took in as his own. He even laments not being able to spend as much time with her as he’d like. It is at this point that listeners see a true evolution of Brown as an artist.

Side B of the album marks the extreme change in mood on Old where he switches from reminiscing and delves into the party scene and drug culture with songs such as “Dip,”  “Smokin & Drinkin” and “Kush Coma.”

On these songs, he has fun with his sound and skips the unusually low voice for his distinctive high-pitched, sometimes shrill voice. “Dip” features an electronic beat that samples Freak Nasty’s 1996 “Da’ Dip.” The song refers explicitly to the use of MDMA, which Brown has been an active supporter of since its recent transition into rap culture. It is arguably the most hyped-up song on the album with Brown saying, “Off a half a gram of Molly / We about to go party and I don’t know what I’m doing” throughout.

Side B continues to keep the party going with many highlights such as “Break It (Go),” for which Brown recruited Scottish producer Rustie. Together, they create a trap song sure to be seen as twerk-worthy by his massive amount of female fans. “Kush Coma” features A$AP Rocky in an explicit portrayal of marijuana use that seems to glorify the substance but carries a more serious undertone about the two sides to a lifestyle of partying when Brown says, “All these drugs up in me / It’s a miracle I ain’t mirror Kurt” (referring to Kurt Cobain).

Brown’s characteristic voice and eccentric and explicit lyrics made his last album, XXX, an immediate hit. Those qualities certainly reappear on Old, but it carries a more sophisticated and polished sound. While he featured some expected collaborations on Old, such as Ab-Soul and Freddie Gibbs, he also introduced some surprising choices of artists such as Purity Ring and British pop star Charli XCX. Brown’s eclectic range of lyrical subjects mixed with his use of obscure producers such as Paul White, Rustie and Detroit producer SKYWLKR, who infuse techno and U.K. grime sounds into the album create an unprecedented style of hip hop production.

The album concludes with “Float On,” a slower, dreamy track on which Brown talks about it still continuing to be a struggle at the end of the day to cope with everything he’s seen and deal with the stress of writing raps for a growing audience. He raps, “You can never understand all the pressure I’m against / Getting high thinking how to make it better than your last sh-t,” conveying some of the stresses and anxiety that come with success in hip-hop fame.

The track provides the perfect closure for an album that’s one part painful memories and one part a look into a drugged-out lifestyle to ultimately focus deeper on Danny Brown as a human being. As the track comes to a close, Brown talks about his fear of fading away under rap’s continuously changing landscape and burning out from drug use. Brown’s proposed solution is simply to stay more focused on his craft. The result of that focus is Old, an album that easily marks the pinnacle of Brown’s career to date.

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Sleigh Bells ‘Bitter Rivals’ Disappoints

Sleigh Bells consists of Alexis Krauss (vocalist) and Derek Miller (guitarist/producer) who formed in New York. The band combines pop and loud, grungy guitar rhythms. Today marks the release of their third album, “Bitter Rivals.”

“Bitter Rivals” begins with the single also titled “Bitter Rivals” and it begins slow with snapping fingers in the background before the heavy guitars Sleigh Bells are known for drop and Alexis Krauss battles the sound with her voice. Her voice is usually barely heard over the music but the vocals are raised in this track.

“You are my bitter rival and I need you for survival” she sings for the chorus with only finger-snapping in the background, and it is a nice change in contrast to the loudness of the rest of the song.

“Sugarcane” pushes back the vocals once again and reminds listeners very clearly of many songs from their last album “Reign of Terror.” It’s very typical of their style and nothing really makes it stand out.

“Minnie” has an extremely loud chorus that repeats, “God save you, I’m a demon heartbreaker, not a loser. Minnie, real hard. Minnie, real hard.” The song’s rhythm is so catchy that listeners won’t even care that the lyrics don’t seem to make sense.

“Sing Like A Wire” sounds very different from the rest so far because it starts out very quickly and includes riffs not used in all the songs. At points, Krauss is almost whispering “Sing like a wire” before the music picks up and she begins to shout over it. The listener won’t lose interest after multiple listens.

“Young Legends” is more pop influenced and at times almost resembles a few older Britney Spears’ songs while talking about how “Young legends die all the time,” something which has often been true in music history.

“Tiger Kit” has the most interesting lyrics on the album. Krauss sings “You’re gonna jump, like a detour, in front of all of these people. Oh, how sorry life is, like a Hollywood sequel.” However, there isn’t anything significant about it that they haven’t done before and it’s a song listeners will likely skip over on their first listen of the album.

“You Don’t Get Me Twice” talks about a search for the American Dream and has parts where Krauss’ voice is high-pitched and shrill in the background, which doesn’t add anything to the song but serves as a kind of distraction. It seemed like an attempt just to switch up their sound but doesn’t work well for them.

“To Hell With You” turns a trip to hell into a dreamy, romantic getaway with this more pop-influenced, ethereal song saying “I’ll go to hell with you, here’s the proof.”

“24” is another slower, dreamy song whose true value comes through in the instrumentals between verses. It seems as though the song would be better off without the vocals in this case.

“Love Sick” is the only song on the album that stands out against Sleigh Bells’ typical sound. It seems to tap into both the styles of the Spice Girls mixed with Charli XCX for an airy, slow pop song.

Although it does include some of the heavy guitar riffs they are downplayed in the chorus and the majority of the song carries a peaceful tone.

Overall, “Bitter Rivals” is exactly what Sleigh Bells’ fans already know and love but it lacks a catchy new single like past hits  “Rill Rill” and “Comeback Kid.”

In “Reign of Terror,” they downplayed the guitars and upped the vocals since their first album “Treats” was uniquely heavy with guitars and Krauss was normally at almost a whisper. In “Bitter Rivals,” it seems as though the members of the band themselves are confused about where their sound is going next so it makes for a disappointing listen.


Noah And The Whale Reminisce But Don’t Surprise On “Heart of Nowhere”

Noah and the Whale is an indie folk band from London, England that consists of Charlie Fink (vocals, guitar), Tom Hobden (violin/keyboard), Michael Petulla (drums), Fred Abbott (guitar/keyboard) and Matt Owens (bass). They made their break into the folk scene in 2008 with their hit single “5 Years Time.” They have since released four albums including their newest, “Heart of Nowhere.”

“Heart of Nowhere” begins with an ethereal introduction, naturally titled “Introduction” that utilizes the keyboard and violin. It resembles the song “Paradise Stars” from their last album, “Last Night On Earth” which was also a solely instrumental transition that set a tone for the entire album.

Next “Heart of Nowhere” which is both the title and their first single off the album, picks up speed and includes catchy melodies by violinist, Tom Hobden. Then the calming voice of Charlie Fink sets in and it sounds like a traditional Noah and the Whale summer jam. It tells the story of running away from home and away from the life you know and taking a chance on a girl named Sarah. It’s an overdone concept with refreshing new life that includes back vocals from Anna Calvi. “Your parents hide, they live in fear. They’re lying restless, as the dawn comes near. But you want to live, you want to try.  You hear a whisper of the world outside.” It’s something everyone can relate to and has probably experienced at some point in their youth.

“All Through the Night” begins with nostalgic 80’s bass lines and breaks into more of a rock and roll guitar with distortion sound in between verses. The vocals are pushed back more than their usual style but blends well with the song.

“Lifetime” talks about two people drifting apart in life and ending up in two different places in their lives. “We grew up, drifted apart, now you’re getting married While I’m waiting for my life to start.” It’s very reminiscent and breaks up the song with a choppier violin melody.

“Silver and Gold” speaks to those undecided on a direction in life when Fink says “But it’s okay to not always be sure exactly where you want to go and love may not be the cure, that’s something I’ll never know.” This song plays on the theme the album seems to carry throughout: the passing of time. It has an overall nostalgic vibe.  However, this song is both reassuring of the present and hopeful for the future.

“One More Night” seems to slow down the passing of time and imagine a night in the future that will never happen. It is again the story of a love lost this time a woman with the name “Jennifer.” The story goes “I only left 6 months ago, now, and you’re wearing his ring. It’s like it all, never happened, like it didn’t mean a thing.” Rhythm mixes in beats on what sounds like bongos to create an overall optimistic feel and towards the end we hear a keyboard cameo to switch it up.

“Still After All These Years” carries yet another name, “Lisa” which was also used in their previous album in the song “LI.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.” This song is once again speaking of the past “And I think still after all these years. Oh, I think still after all these years. Something still burns,” but seems to carry a happier tone due to the upbeat quality that resembles a vibe similar to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”

“There Will Come a Time” is the kind of song that everyone wants clap their hands along to and belt the chorus out with their friends. It is another catchy tune with an 80’s air that celebrates friendship and getting through difficult times.

“Now Is Exactly the Time” stops the ever present and repetitive theme of looking into the past and changes the mood of the album. It advises “Oh, and now is exactly the time to turn your head from the past.” They continue to offer advice about forgiveness and moving on and bring listeners back to the present.

“Not Too Late” completes the album with a simple tune about finding your own path in life. However, the rest of the album seems so meticulously and effectively placed that it seems odd for “Heart of Nowhere” to end on this lackluster note.

“Heart of Nowhere” is entertaining but not surprising to any Noah and the Whale fan. The album as a whole is very similar to their typical sound but impeccably produced and carries the perfect sentimental ambience for the fall season.