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  • Writer's pictureEvan

Monthly Rewind: April '24

So many of my most anticipated records released this April. Whether it be the highly-anticipated return of Taylor Swift, the surprise comeback of French house duo Justice, or the guaranteed masterpiece from Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, the month was packed with notable releases in the mainstream and alternative scenes.


 


Taylor Swift – The Tortured Poets Department (2024) [Singer-Songwriter]

 

I have always been torn on Taylor Swift’s music. I adore Red but cannot stand Reputation; I’m always stunned by folklore but feel underwhelmed by Midnights. Unfortunately, The Tortured Poets Department falls into the same camp as Midnights for me. On paper, the album sounds enthralling. A 31-track double album all about her struggles with fame and failed relationships could have been an ambitious, deeply personal venture for Swift, but the end-result is some of her most derivative and creatively bankrupt material to date. Although her lyricism can be questionable at points – lacking the same nuance and poetic flair that made folklore and evermore so extraordinary – the production is where the LP suffers most. Countless songs blend together, indistinguishable in all but name, because so many tracks share the same dated drums, monotonous synths, and sleepy basslines. More acoustic cuts like the bright “Guilty As Sin?” and “But Daddy I Love Him” sound so much more colourful and active in comparison to the sterile electronic tracks where Swift sings in the same tone every single track. Thankfully, the second half of the double album picks up with more production from Aaron Dessner, whose lush, acoustic style works especially well on highlights like “The Bolter”, “The Prophecy”, and “The Manuscript”. Overall, The Tortured Poets Department suffers because of its lack of consistency, variety, and creativity. There are some brilliant songs to be found, but not enough to make up for the record’s low points.

 


Adrianne Lenker – Bright Future (2024) [Folk]

 

Lush in her production and poetic in her writing, there is no better way to understand the beauty of Lenker’s latest outing than to listen to it yourself. From the gorgeous guitar-work on “Fool” to the sombre piano progressions on “Ruined”, Bright Future shows the singer working at her highest ability, evoking as much emotion through her instrumentation as her lyrics. The album sounds lively but never too busy; there is always a space to breathe that allows Lenker’s vocals to shine through and her writing to resonate. The album starts slow with “Real House”, an emotional intro that acts as a stream of consciousness for Lenker as she sings whatever melancholic thoughts come to her. What makes Bright Future especially compelling is its variety of sounds, ebbing and flowing from despairing moments of revelation to playful flashes of brightness, with Lenker and her producers using the instruments to flow effortlessly with her changing emotions.

 


Justice – Hyperdrama (2024) [French House]

 

Along with acts like Hot Chip and Gorillaz, Justice was one of the first groups that got me into music. I was obsessed with their debut album Cross for years, and although I was never quite as enamoured by their next two projects, I have always been hopeful they could deliver another masterpiece. While Hyperdrama isn’t quite the French house classic I was hoping for, it’s still a step up from Woman and Audio, Video, Disco. The entire album is laced with glamorous synth passages and indulgent basslines, with the duo embracing their adoration for Daft Punk with a disco-infused house record in a similar vein to Random Access Memories. “Neverender” is an enchanting opener where Justice’s signature disjointed percussion hooks the listener right in, with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker fitting perfectly with his dreamy vocals. “Generator” sounds just as sinister as something from Cross but with a slick polish that makes it equally funky and foreboding. As the album transitions into its back end, however, cracks start to show. Despite Miguel offering an incredible vocal performance on “Saturnine”, the sound effects in the background come off as cartoonish and distract from rather than complement the singer. Moreover, the sudden pauses laced throughout “Explorer” give the song a choppy, disorganised sound that doesn’t quite work when the track is going for such a mellow sound. Overall, despite its low points, Hyperdrama is a refreshing return to form for Justice, and an album I’m certain would sound twice as excellent in concert.

 




King Tee – Act a Fool (1988) [West Coast Hip Hop]

 

The majority of hip hop classics end up becoming some of my favourite albums, but unfortunately, I can’t quite connect with Act a Fool in the same way. King Tee offers a formidable performance with a plethora of dynamic flows and limitless energy to his mic presence, but otherwise, the LP falls flat. In terms of production, the album sounds so poorly engineered. On most tracks, classic funk songs are sampled such as James Brown’s “The Payback” and The Meters’s “Cissy Strut”, but they are utilised weakly. The drums are so loud on every song, drowning out every sample to the point they feel redundant. Even Tee himself is often overshadowed by the percussion, with the shotty mix distracting on the majority of songs here. “Bass – Remix” is perhaps the only tune where all its elements work together rather than fight for prominence.

 




Ullnevano & Logic Marselis – CONCORDS (2024) [Hip Hop]

 

After just a handful of listens, I can already see CONCORDS landing high on my list of best albums of 2024. Hailing from Baltimore, the latest LP from rapper Ullnevano is a joint effort with long-time collaborator, producer Logic Marselis. Whenever the duo cross paths, they make magic, and CONCORDS is no exception. On the production side, Marselis cooks up a feast of soulful instrumentals, striking a fine balance between the lush extravagance of a Midwest LP and the abrasive punch of an East Coast classic. “Eastern Conference Finals” shows off Marselis’s hardcore side with its roaring drums and crackling, droning samples, whereas “November 23” showcases his most elegant work, building a gorgeous wall of sounds soulful and funky. Over every beat, Ullnevano thrives, with a dynamic arsenal of flows, a natural talent for lyricism, and a strong, emotive voice that adds power to every bar uttered. Whether he’s playing with alliteration and metaphor or painting a vivid picture through his rhymes, CONCORDS is the perfect display of Neva’s abilities, and one of the most pristinely produced records of ’24. 

 


Mantis the Miasma & Tokyo Cigar – Kamakiri Klouds 2: California Wasteland (2024) [Abstract Hip Hop]

 

The latest project from California rapper Mantis the Miasma is as bleak and desolate as its album cover suggests. Heavily inspired by the apocalyptic wastes of Fallout New Vegas, Mantis and producer Tokyo Cigar take that dystopian imagery and convert it into musical form through an array of despairing verses and icy instrumentals. For those who lean towards hard-hitting bangers and earworm hooks, this album may not be for you, but for those who can appreciate a dense atmosphere and harrowing themes, you can’t miss the grim highlights of California Wasteland. The screaming synths and stuttering drums on “Desolation” sound like a decades’ old hip hop tune that’s been worn and warped through a nuclear winter. The unrelenting drums on “Fire In My Eyes” offer a brutal backdrop for Mantis to flourish, contrasting the chaotic production with his signature slow, meticulous flows. Far from a casual listen, California Wasteland is too bleak an album for me to revisit often, but its moody highlights and cohesive sense of horror make it well worth the listen.

 


INSMNC & Onwuka – Fatal Fate Tales (2024) [Experimental Hip Hop]  

 

The chaotic follow-up to 2023’s Portals, Fatal Fate Tales is another genre-bending rollercoaster of sounds where rapper Onwuka and producer INSMNC embrace the bizarre. Always innovative with his sound, INSMNC’s blend of boom bap rhythms and experimental sampling techniques makes for a wild and overwhelming listen, with groovy drum patterns distorted by layers of crackling bass and amalgamated jazz samples. Onwuka matches the hectic atmosphere with an animated, unflinching delivery, thriving over every swirling instrumental with his signature funky flows and ever-evolving lyrics. Guests like Big Noah Genesis, Darryl Watson and S.I.N. all adapt well to the unpredictable sound, but it’s the chemistry between Onwuka and INSMNC that makes Fatal Fate Tales so compelling.

 

 

Nonazz & BMG Castro – Midnight Sun (2024) [Abstract Hip Hop]

 

On Midnight Sun, rapper Nonazz and producer BMG Castro don’t break away from their signature styles, but rather, they embrace them, perfecting the moody, atmospheric brand of hip hop that has dominated their catalogues. The sound of this EP is sparse and desolate. The meandering jazz samples help paint an equally peaceful and eerie atmosphere, with the subtle percussion giving the songs room to breathe and expand. Nonazz glides over every beat with his husky, fast-paced flows, spilling out all his thoughts with a mesmerising performance that demands multiple listens to pick up ever bar. Midnight Sun isn’t the type of project to have songs looping in your head for days, but when it’s on, you are utterly immersed in Castro’s rich, enveloping atmosphere.

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