Listens for the Week #22
Every week, I offer three recommendations: something new, something classic, and something I love. This week, I’ve been playing the new Jessie Ware single on loop, but since that isn’t an album, I’ll just recommend it here. “Pearls” is the best song I’ve heard in 2023, and if you don’t know it, I implore you to check it out. As for albums, I’ve been a bit all-over-the-place this week.
Rebecca Black – Let Her Burn (2023) [Alt-Pop]
After years living with the infamy of her 2011 single “Friday”, Rebecca Black has finally released her debut album, and it sounds like the beginning of a promising chapter in her career. Let Her Burn is a half hour experiment in alt-pop, with some tracks capturing the colourful sound of hyperpop while others are more rock-inspired anthems. Rebecca has a great voice, conveying so much emotion in her tone and adapting well to the array sounds presented. However, with that variety comes a level of inconsistency. I find the busy percussion and fast-paced vocals on “Destroy Me” somewhat messy, and the sparse production on the first half of “Performer” leaves a lot to be desired. That being said, the rock crescendo at the end of “Performer” makes for a climactic end to the album, and besides those few tracks, the rest of album is fantastic. The irresistible synth melodies on “Misery Loves Company”, the whispery, moody vocals on “Crumbs” and the punching pop-rock sounds of “Look At You” are among my favourite moments, showcasing Rebecca’s effortless ability to hop across different sounds. Let Her Burn is not perfect, but it’s a promising debut. With the versatility of her sound, it’s uncertain what direction she will go in next, but there is no doubt she’ll bring a strong vocal presence and some unforgettable hooks.
GZA – Liquid Swords (1995) [Hip Hop]
Of all the solo Wu-Tang albums in RZA’s five year plan, Liquid Swords remains my favourite. GZA has such a strength and articulation to his voice, making his complex wordplay and storytelling ability all the more apparent. He depicts a cold and brutal life of crime through these tracks, complemented by the genius production from RZA. The wailing synths on “4th Chamber” and the pitched-up vocal sample on “Shadowboxin’” are just a few examples of RZA’s pristine production choices on this album, forming an unforgettably dense and frigid atmosphere. Every feature delivers, with the Wu-Tang members bouncing off GZA perfectly and Killah Priest finishing off the album with his profound lyricism on “B.I.B.L.E.”. Although I don’t revisit it enough, every time I do return to Liquid Swords, I’m reminded why it's one of the greatest albums, not only in hip hop, but of all time.
Something I Love
Whose – Windowless Bathroom (2023) [Hip Hop]
An album from this year I don’t want to fall under the radar is Windowless Bathroom, an eclectic dive into the memories of Whose as they describe their many struggles with loss, betrayal, and trust. This project is brimming with Def Jux influence, from the rippling, El-P-esque electronic production to the quick-witted rapping as well-worded and vivid as Aesop Rock. The album covers such a range of sounds, but they transition into one another well, with the sudden contrast from calm to abrasive moments working smoothly with Whose’s ever-changing delivery. The title track opens up Windowless Bathroom with these ascending, ambient synths contrasted by Whose’s increasingly careworn delivery; then it transitions into the crackling bass and squealing synths on “X-Pac Heat”; and by the fifth track, “Break the Prison”, the production has changed entirely to an eerie piano backdrop with layers of sinister guitar rising and falling. While the album is admirable in its diversity and creativity, there are moments where I’m left wanting more. The project starts strong and ends just as well, but a few tracks are noticeably weaker, such as “Dennis Reynolds” with its anticlimactic brevity and “Mimicry” with its gentle production which doesn’t compel me in the same way as other songs. While there are weaker moments, that’s not to say they are bad, and regardless, the project still comes together as a satisfying whole. Whose is an excellent lyricist with a vivid pen and engaging delivery, and their performance alone is enough to make Windowless Bathroom a highlight of 2023.