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  • Writer's pictureEvan

Listens for the Week #48-50: Nas, Olivia Rodrigo, Mitski, Freddie Gibbs, Hole, Mantis & More

The past month has been one of the busiest of my life. Starting my third year in university, planning interviews with several artists, and writing the longest article in Doombox Music history – my extensive guide to the discography of Miles Davis – I’ve barely had a moment to listen to new music. However, as I’ve settled into my busy schedule, I’ve found moments to discover new albums, so in this article, I’ll make up for the past weeks without reviews.

My Favourite Albums This Week

Something New

1. Nas & Hit-Boy – Magic 3 (2023) [East Coast Hip Hop]

Just a few months ago, Nas and Hit-Boy dropped the sequel to 2021’s Magic, a concise batch of high-energy bangers showcasing Nas’s delivery at its smoothest and Hit’s beats at their slickest. The second instalment was weak by comparison, but thankfully the duo have picked things back up for the final entry, Magic 3. Ending their three-year run, Nas sounds more passionate than ever on this project, dominating every track with an irresistible confidence that makes even the occasional questionable bar sound excellent. In terms of production, Magic 3 doesn’t reach the heights of the original, but it’s certainly not far behind. The marching band style percussion on “No Tears” didn’t hook me at first, but once the synths flood over the drums, it makes for one of the finest beats on the record. “Pretty Young Girl” is another highlight, where the distorted Slick Rick sample adds a cartoonish quality to Nas’s tongue-in-cheek storytelling. Magic 3 is far from Nas’s best album, but with consistent verses, explosive beats, and limitless charisma throughout, it’s up there with the best rap albums of 2023.

2. Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS (2023) [Pop-Punk]

The sophomore record from Olivia Rodrigo is even stronger than her debut. Embracing her pop-punk inspirations, GUTS strips away the commercial balladry of hits like “driver’s licence” and “traitor”, instead going for a more colourful, abrasive sound to match her despairing lyrics. Dealing in all sorts of themes from toxic relationships to her reputation as a mainstream prodigy, each topic is handled with vivid writing and a passionate performance. From the comedic storytelling of “bad idea right?” and “get him back!” to devastating ballads such as “vampire” and “the grudge”, every track is a highlight, displaying Rodrigo’s innate talent to grab the listener with charisma alone. Among my favourite pop records of the year, it’s refreshing to hear something so raw, intimate, and hard-hitting dominate the mainstream.

3. Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We (2023) [Singer-Songwriter]

This is my first Mitski record, and already I’m tempted to dive through her whole catalogue. The instrumentation is gorgeous, from the simple strum of guitar on “I’m Your Man” to the swell of orchestral noise on the climax of “Star”. Mitski’s strong vocals hold the power of an opera lead and the emotion of a folk singer, adding a grandiose, theatrical flair to every song. Though I’ll have to dig deeper into the lyrics, Mitski’s voice along with the phenomenal production is enough to rank this among my favourite projects of the year. The seamless blend of rock, folk, and orchestral elements is brilliant, with the styles glued together by the singer’s powerful presence.

Something Classic

1. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (2014) [Abstract Hip Hop]

Piñata is a strong contender for album of the century. Though I prefer a handful of classics over it, the bizarre, warped production from Madlib and ruthless pen game from Freddie add up to an undeniable masterpiece. With countless slick flows, dozens of comedic one-liners, and even more hard-hitting quotables, Gibbs has never rapped better than on Piñata, mastering every distorted instrumental with unbreakable confidence. Features from Danny Brown to Earl Sweatshirt all deliver incredible verses, with no MC offering a subpar performance. What makes Piñata most special, however, is the production: fusing hundreds of obscure samples, adding dusty drums, distorted effects, and boundless layers of detail, almost every beat rivals Madlib’s finest work on Madvillainy. In every regard, Piñata is hip hop perfection, blending the grit of the coke rap scene with the unpredictable madness of the abstract.

2. Hole – Live Through This (1994) [Grunge]

My second favourite grunge band after Nirvana, few albums in the genre reach the heights of Live Through This. Courtney Love’s angsty, raspy vocals make the project even more hard-hitting, matching her raw delivery to the intensity of the instruments swirling around her. Switching back and forth from slick, whispered passages to explosive choruses, Love’s performance is nothing short of manic, adding impact to her dark lyrics. “Credit In The Straight World” is one of my favourite moments on the album, where a harmony of roaring guitars wash over Courtney’s voice, embracing the full-on aggression of grunge. “Doll Parts” is another standout, where Love’s cryptic lyrics regarding her relationship to Kurt Cobain are made twice as haunting with the knowledge of his death. One of the best rock records of the ‘90s, Live Through This strikes the perfect balance between dark subject matter and accessible, hard-hitting instrumentals.

Something I Love

1. Mantis the Miasma & Skelbeats – Death and the Horseman (2023) [Abstract Hip Hop]

One of the most prolific MCs of 2023, Death and the Horseman is one of many highlights from Mantis the Miasma this year. Teaming up with producer Skelbeats, the MC fits nicely over the twisted selection of instrumentals. With a knack for building dark, bone-chilling atmospheres, Skel’s horror-inspired style matches perfectly with the slow, deliberate flows from Mantis. Though the subject matter is nothing brand new for hip hop, the Miasma’s frigid delivery coupled with the foreboding production makes for a smooth collaboration.

2. Natalie Lafourcade – De todas las flores (2022) [Chamber Folk, Vocal Jazz]

Slowly climbing up my list of favourites this decade, De todas las flores is a beautiful chamber folk record from Mexican singer Natalie Lafourcade. Though the lyrics go over my head without looking up translations, from the sonics alone, there is so much to appreciate. Natalie’s vocals are majestic and smooth, weaving her words with the same grace as the strings she sings over. Instrumentally, this is a masterpiece – whether it be the summery guitar notes on the title track or the sinister double bass pulsing throughout “Muerte”, there are countless memorable moments, with the languid, Latin-influenced soundscape of the record capturing me for the full hour. Natalie herself is a brilliant singer – she has the power to belt high notes and the charisma to turn a mere whisper into a compelling verse, flexing her range on every track.

3. Twogeebs – Stevie Wonder Not Blind (2023) [East Coast Hip Hop]

Stevie Wonder Not Blind is further proof that Twogeebs is one of the finest rappers in today’s underground. Smooth flows and witty one-liners are guaranteed whenever he grips the mic, hyping up his own skills with the clever bars and charismatic presence to justify every brag. Beyond his rapping ability, Zilla’s ear for beats is impeccable. The laidback soul of “Spliff On a Beach”; the grimy spiral of strings on “Bill Hates”; the ambient, Dilla-esque synths of “Zillatude”; every song is a production highlight, with the MC tearing apart every one. My only issue is the brevity of each track, with many ideas cut short without given the proper room to breathe. Regardless, if you haven’t listened to Twogeebs yet, you can’t say you know the underground.

My Favourite Songs This Week

1. Saymo – “Andre AGASsi” (2023) [East Coast Hip Hop]

With a glamorous pop rap beat supplied by Bei Ru, “Andre AGASsi” is one of the most addictive songs I’ve heard this year. Saymo’s playful bars are made twice as entertaining thanks to his swaggering delivery, floating over the luxurious beat with the suave mic presence to have me looping it over and over.

2. Miles Davis – “Nefertiti” (1968) [Post-Bop]

Traditionally, in jazz, the rhythm section work as the foundation for a composition. While the piano, bass, and drums offer a simple backdrop, it’s the trumpeters and saxophonists who hook the listener in. However, on “Nefertiti”, Miles decided to flip the tradition. While Davis and Shorter repeat the same hypnotic melody with their horns, the rhythm section improvise, with a clatter of drums, meandering bass, and ever-moving piano coming together to form one of the most unique and chaotic tracks in Miles’s catalogue.

3. Brandy – “I Thought” (2002) [Contemporary R&B]

“I Thought” is just one of many timeless bangers from Full Moon. A masterclass in R&B and pop, the punching electro-funk instrumental from Darkchild immediately draws me in, and Brandy’s entrancing vocals are even more immersive. Listing off all the ways her partner mistreated her, “I Thought” takes the grim themes of heartbreak and betrayal and turns them into one of the catchiest tunes of the 2000s.

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