Artsweek Staff Shares the EP’s that Made Us Groove

These Days… by Ab-soul

Kelsey Tang, Staff Writer

By infusing the fuzzy ambience of downtempo into classic hip-hop, Ab-Soul’s These Days… became an impressive contender for best album in the realm of genre-bending music. I suggest listening to the album at least twice in order to separately acknowledge the cloudy melodies and brilliant wordplay. The album also features notable artists like Kendrick Lamar and Lupe Fiasco, resulting in a battle of sharp tongues and unparalleled flow. These Days… holds an assortment of tracks that explore varied themes on life.

Whether Ab-Soul celebrates decadence, pens a smart sexual innuendo or seeks spiritual tranquility, it is an album composed for thoughtful hedonists — those that ruminate human existence yet simultaneously pine for pleasure. Ab-Soul’s These Days… sufficiently encapsulates this essential balance for both deliberate solitude and heedless indulgence.

If that fails to convince you, the album’s eccentric beats should be enough to pull you in. It’s dark, eerie and slow. “No master’s, but a mastermind,” Ab-Soul raps in “God’s Reign,” referencing his early dropout from college. I thank him for this delicate decision, and you should too.

Slasher Flicks: Enter the Slasher House by Avey Tare of Animal Collective

Nadine Bedwan, Staff Writer

Animal Collective is known for their foreign sounds, alien beats and lengthy instrumentals. These qualities cement them on the outermost edge of the indie/alternative spectrum, both drawing in and repelling prospective fans. In April of 2014, however, Animal Collective’s Avey Tare released the first product of his latest side project, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks: Enter the Slasher House.

Despite the deliciously morbid sounding titles, the album actually features upbeat rock songs which are even poppy at times. The album is definitely more commercialized and mainstream-friendly than nearly anything Animal Collective has ever put out, but it was still crafted with outcasts and misfits in mind.

“Little Fang” may be the standout track on the record, offering catchy hooks and an endearing reminder of “you’re something special/embrace your darkness never be ashamed.” Other tracks, like “Strange Colors” and “Roses on the Window” give a pleasurable dose of Animal Collective’s signature psychedelic sound within a more compacted and riotous framework. Overall, this album exudes the vibe of a cute dance party with friends that just happens to be set in a graveyard.

Souled Out by Jhené Aiko

Brianna Guzman, Staff Writer

2014 was quite the year for this L.A. native. From appearances on SNL with Drake in January to her song “The Worst” charting on the Billboard 100 to the release of her debut album Souled Out, Jhené Aiko set the Hip-Hop/R&B world ablaze with this soulful release.

This beautifully emotional roller coaster of an album keeps your attention from beginning to end. Stylistically, the EP is considered to be “alternative R&B” which has become an emerging genre with the rise of artists like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Theophilus London. Echo-laden and lofty, Souled Out tells Aiko’s stories of heartbreak and confusion, from the death of her brother to the struggle of being a working mom.

But eventual enlightenment and lessons are learned through these trials set before her. Highlights include: “W.A.Y.S,” “Eternal Sunshine,” “Spotless Mind” (both tracks inspired by the film), “It’s Cool,” “Promises,” and for all the ladies that have been done dirty: “Lyin King.”

Cilvia Demo by Isaiah Rashad

Elena Bernick, Reporter

In 2013, Isaiah Rashad, a Chattanooga, Tennessee native, seemed like an odd choice as a new member of the Top Dawg Entertainment team, whose other artists are predominantly from Southern California.

Despite this, the 23-year-old rapper proved he’d found the right home with his debut album Cilvia Demo. Released in January, the album was overshadowed by projects released later in the year by his label-mates, specifically Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron in February and Ab-Soul’s These Days… in June.

However, armed with undeniably hypnotizing beats and elaborate storytelling, Cilvia Demo deserves to be recognized as one of the best of 2014. It is a perfect blend of Kendrick Lamar’s lyricism, Ab-Soul’s laidback style and Schoolboy Q’s catchy hooks.

Listeners are gently brought into Rashad’s world through a relaxed album that seems simple at its surface, but with repeated listens, becomes complex and enjoyable.

In just 90 seconds we learn of Rashad’s troubled relationship with his father and his family’s dependence on alcohol on the appropriately titled “Hereditary.”

These themes continue throughout, and by “Heavenly Father,” the eleventh track, we are well-versed in his inner demons. With Cilvia Demo, Rashad shows he can stand out amongst a crew of modern-day rap giants with a unique personality and a brilliant album that never gets old.

Black Messiah by D’angelo

Jonathon Choi, Reporter

What does this R&B artist have with common with the Holy Son of God? Both have a strong cult following of believers and evangelists preaching the miraculousness of their works. Both have had enough hearsay and rumor-milling to fill a thousand pages in size-five font print. And both Jesus and D’Angelo have only been spotted intermittently after their hiatus from the music industry and humanity.

After 14 years of working with artists from several different genres and complete radio silence, D’Angelo has come back from beyond the grave in Black Messiah.

Deep meaningful lyrics hidden underneath a kaleidoscope of dizzying jazz interludes, guitar medleys and omnipresent bass lines wait to be teased out by the discerning listener. Rather than riding this sonic wave of soul and funk, D’Angelo’s voice parts the ocean and raptures his audience through to the Promised Land.

Black Messiah touches on topics as diverse as police brutality, reminiscent of Mike Brown and countless lives lost to police brutality, to romance and the pyrrhic victory of love. Ultimately, this album reflects a serious gamble on D’Angelo’s part to return to an industry that has changed much since the days of Voodoo, but after hearing his voice soar over the instrumentals of “Ain’t that Easy,” D’Angelo is back and better than ever!

Singles by Future Islands

Alex Bocknek,  Asst. Artsweek Editor

This past year was the year for Future Islands. While the band has gone through many awkward post-punk
phases in the earlier studio albums, frontman Samuel T. Herring and the rest of the gang really come into their stride with Singles. This album is testament that overly-cheesy love lyrics (e.g. “people change, but I grew tired trying to change for you”) are not only for the young Taylor Swift types — men teetering on the edge of middle-agedness can do it, too.

Jokes aside, it is not the lyrics, specifically, or the endearing synths reminiscent of New Order or Iggy Pop jibes, that make this album. It is the indubitable authenticity of Herring’s delivery that will not allow listeners to simply write off these heartbreak ballads as cliché.

Black Messiah by D’angelo (vote two)

Alec Hartnett, Reporter

Upon entering into an old, familiar apartment just after returning to my home of all homes, New York City, strange music permeated the quarters and sucked me to my friend’s room in the back. His brother is playing what I think might be D’Angelo, although the song title and album name are lost on me. Too recent to remember.

On Dec. 15, 2014, R&B and soul virtuoso D’Angelo released an album to bring him back from the dead of writer’s block. At least, that is where it seemed he had become trapped. Hindered by a near-fatal car crash in ’05, and then allegedly soliciting an undercover police officer in 2010, it seemed as if this Grammy-Award-winning artist might not recover, as if another album was anti-imminent. However, slamming Black Messiah into the public last December indicated a clear return of a messiah of the genre.

What makes D’Angelo transcendent is that he does not pertain to one genre. Black Messiah breaches other genres as well as other social constructs. In a statement that the musician released with his new album, he indicated that this is a message for the people who are struggling against law enforcement and political authority figures.

To his fans, he communicated his political intentions, “For me, the title is about all of us. It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them.” “Prayer,” “1000 Deaths” and “The Charade” all speak towards an injustice all too prevalent in our society. “All we wanted was a chance to talk/‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk.”

In one of the more popular tracks, “Really Love,” he infuses a Latin feel with his soulful falsetto. Throughout the rest of the album, funk, rock, jazz, soul and some sort of “neo-Motown” invade his smooth verses, like water running through a pipe. D’Angelo’s musical brilliance explodes from his latest creation and brings him right back into the positive spotlight.