The Month in Review: A Selection of Album Appraisals
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“SICK!” by Earl Sweatshirt
On “SICK!,” Hip-hop artist Earl Sweatshirt returns without his typical downtrodden, fractured, personal odes to depression and anxiety. Earl and his milieu’s warped sampling and lyrical blend of oblique poetry and blunt confession take a backseat to punchy trap percussion, psychedelic loops, and a newfound optimism. The album’s lead single “2010” sports fluttering, crystalline synths from Black Noise, forming a backdrop for Earl’s loose, relaxed flow and confidence in the face of his adversities: “When the mood change, I’ma poker-face ‘em / It’s a new day, who got all the aces?” He continues his fun on “Titanic” over a wonky, clattering beat, but miraculously finds a pocket amid the clutter and sounds his happiest since Earl’s departure from Odd Future.
However, Earl still hasn’t fully strayed from his typical aesthetic. The jazzy, horn-driven “Lye” and wistful “Fire in the Hole” serve as reflections on his career and tribulations with mental health, contextualizing the project’s successes in Earl’s storied past. “Tabula Rasa” features misty pianos and vocal splices from The Alchemist and verses from Brooklyn duo Armand Hammer. However, it has the inverse issue as the rest of the project: it drags on without variation, while most songs on “SICK!” (2022) end before they are given the chance to develop. Most of the beats and flows remain static throughout. Only three songs pass the two-minute mark, and the whole project finishes in less than half an hour.
Brevity is a typical tool for Sweatshirt, but it feels misused on “SICK!”. If “Some Rap Songs” (2018) was much longer, it would’ve been too bleak to handle in one sitting. But “SICK!” doesn’t have one unifying theme to give it the raw power that calls for its short runtime, so it ends up feeling like a throwaway mixtape, especially with its relaxed tone. Still, it is worth checking out for highlights like “2010,” “Fire in the Hole,” and “Titanic.” Despite its shortcomings, “SICK!” is a must-listen for fans of Earl Sweatshirt.
“Marchita” by Silvana Estrada
“Marchita” is a record that is unabashedly built on its self-contradiction. While each instrument of the composition is plainly strummed, plucked, bowed or tapped, Estrada’s vocals bring a distinct dramatic flair to them. The lilting sway of her soft vocals give way to controlled and forceful belting with the occasional trail of descending vibrato following a highlight in the lyrics or melody. The string arrangements gently relax each track, following the powerful vocal journey. The beauty of the project is found in the distance between these traits and amplified through the little moments created in their dynamics; the quiet strums are all the more powerful in the context of Estrada’s dramatic singing. Particular highlights include “La Corriente” for the combination of horns and Estrada’s crooning, “Sabre Olvidar” for the shifting vocal timbre throughout the chorus that culminates in the fiery bridge, and “Carta” for the way she tones down the vibrato following the chorus for a moment of clarity.
Despite the temptations to compare, “Marchita” bears no similarities to any one project. Instead, Silvana Estrada joins the pantheon of excellent chamber folk from the likes of Ichiko Aoba and Sufjan Stevens with her own starry, unique, and beautiful take on the genre.
“Time Skiffs” by Animal Collective
“Time Skiffs” represents a brand-new version of Animal Collective. After two decades of filling the headphones of Pitchfork readers worldwide, they have woven their love of Brian Wilson into gleaming Pop anthems, frenetic folk jams, crunchy glitches, and experimental odysseys. Their newest project “Time Skiffs” is none of these. It is definitely Pop, with verse-chorus structures and defined melodies, and it’s definitely psychedelic, with swirling swaths of effects and synths—but Avey Tare and friends have done Psychedelic Pop before. The new element of “Time Skiffs” is its profound lack of memorability.
On “Dragon Slayer,” the off-kilter, cyclic synth lead and distant vocals fuse into nondescript background noise. Lead single “Prester John” is uncharacteristically limp for Animal Collective, featuring plodding pianos and stiff, elementary guitar grooves; at least the glittery synth sequences add some much-needed flavor. The remaining tracks follow in a similar fashion, with a few redeeming traits failing to drag the fundamentally unengaging shell of the rest of the song along with it. The general instrumental and compositional palette could be charitably described as playful, or realistically as thin and gimmicky. The sole highlight of the project is “Cherokee,” mostly because it namedrops Tom Hanks, but also because of its multiphasic structure and semi-catchy vocals. “Time Skiffs” is a tragic misfire, lacking the immediacy and innovation that an admirable addition to the Animal Collective canon requires.