The Summer in Review: A Selection of Album Appraisals
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“Planet Her” by Doja Cat
“Planet Her” has proven to be a smashing success on TikTok, but beyond 15-second soundbites, it offers very little of interest. Doja Cat’s personality and versatility have always been her greatest assets, but she chooses to mute the quirkiness that propelled her to stardom in favor of banal throwaways. “I Don’t Do Drugs” features saturated 808s and distorted, liquidy lead melodies that clash horribly with Doja’s and Ariana Grande’s breathy refrains. “Love to Dream” has a similar issue, but the stop-and-start bassline and twittering hi-hats sound even less calibrated to the vocals. The plucky MIDI guitar pickups on “Payday” don’t deserve a description––they sound terrible. Thankfully, Young Thug’s verse is entertaining enough to save the track from being the worst on the album. That honor goes to “Been Like This,” which features pitched vocals and a leaden trap beat that was ripped straight from 2016. Its biggest crime is its absolute lack of identity; it’s a total non-starter.
There are a few moments in which Doja puts her best foot forward. “Woman” is a modern take on afrobeat, and the lyrics take a tasteful feminist twist during the bridge. “Kiss Me More” with SZA is a shameless retread of last year’s “Say So,” down to the identical chord progression, but it’s fun and catchy enough to be absolved. “Get Into It (Yuh)” is a colorful, frenetic Playboi Carti-inspired rager, and it may be her best song to date. Her varied vocal inflections are infectious and add an irreplaceable personality that the rest of “Planet Her” lacks. Overall, “Planet Her” is extremely frustrating. It’s clear that Doja Cat has a lot of talent, but she’s uninterested in utilizing it. With several chart-topping hits and Platinum records, her current strategy is working just fine for her.
“CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST” by Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator takes some time to celebrate his journey from teenage edgelord to mature wavemaker on “Call Me,” and he achieves his goal to varying degrees of success. The project suffers from some focus issues, as Tyler bounces from reflecting on his career to sharing his perspective (or lack thereof) on racism to love songs to flexing his financial and artistic successes in rapid succession. The production matches the thematic diversity by featuring everything from classy, soulful horn sections and vocal chops to blown-out bass and grimy drum breaks. The only common thread between the myriad topics and sounds is hype man DJ Drama, who matches Tyler’s confidence and energy and adds a fun, lighthearted sense of identity to the project. His quotables lend themselves best to Tyler’s victory laps, such as “HOT WIND BLOWS,” on which Lil Wayne gives the project’s best feature with an impressive double-time flow, and “JUGGERNAUT,” on which Tyler shows off his love for Pharrell Williams with both a Neptunes inspired beat and a feature verse from Williams himself. Other highlights include the timeless charmer “WUSYANAME” and the exemplary braggadocio of “LEMONHEAD ” and “CORSO.”
However, with the exception of “WUSYANAME,” most of the tracks off “Call Me” that don’t involve flexing are underwritten and unimpressive. “SWEET” doesn’t just sound recycled from Tyler’s last album, “Igor,” it reuses synth patches and vocal melodies. “I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” is a drawn out and uncomfortable foray into reggae. “WILSHIRE” is ambitious, but its writing isn’t engaging enough to sustain a runtime of nearly nine minutes, and Tyler’s decision to heavily pan the instrumental wears the song out even faster. Tracks like “MASSA” and “MANIFESTO” are initially interesting, but their lack of depth doesn’t reward repeat listens. “Call Me” isn’t a substantial artistic statement for Tyler like “Flower Boy” and “Igor,” but rather an enjoyable yet scattershot breather from Tyler, catching fans up on his perspective and keeping them sated until his next major release.
“Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish’s explosion into the mainstream and her antipathy toward her newfound fame has been profoundly interesting to watch, and as such, her sophomore release “Happier Than Ever” was one of the most anticipated of the year. Strangely, the result bears many similarities to “CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST”: Billie Eilish matures beyond her edgy, snarky teenage persona and lyrically captures her new perspective on the world and her place in it, but holistically, the album is unfocused and inconsistent. Coincidentally, one of the best tracks on the album also takes inspiration from Pharrell Williams—in this case, “Oxytocin,” a tense, sensual, driving dance banger that delivers an unnerving atmosphere just as well as any track on Eilish’s first album, without the hackneyed lyrics and sound palettes that held it back. However, Eilish mostly pulls away from the sound that put her on the radar. She tries her hand at bossa nova on the aptly titled “Billie Bossa Nova,” shuffling dance pop on “my future,” and jagged trip hop on “I Didn’t Change My Number.” Unfortunately, none of those experiments pan out very well. However, the most glaring issue with “Happier Than Ever” is the glut of inessential tracks that serve no purpose but padding time. “OverHeated,” “Everybody Dies,” and “Halley’s Comet” are redundant and soporific. They interrupt the meat of the project: Eilish flaunting her vocal chops over some beautiful and well-balanced production. In “Getting Older,” she ponders how she may be subconsciously kneecapping her artistic fulfillment to pay the bills, and in “Lost Cause,” she derides a schlubby ex over a warm and immediately catchy bassline.
The thematic pith of “Happier Than Ever” is brought to fruition on the album’s centerpiece, “Not My Responsibility,” which features spoken word over spacey chords and synth bass. Eilish touches on the attention she gets from the paparazzi and the Internet, the parasociality of their engagement with her, the discomfort she feels from her lack of privacy, and how she was forced to decouple society’s view of her from her self-esteem, hence her embrace of her sexuality. One of the strongest moments lyrically is the closer, “Male Fantasy,” on which Eilish confesses that her disaffected rejection of society’s mixed messages of overwhelming praise and inappropriate disgust hasn’t made her immune; she is still confused and hurt and infatuated with her new life, and all the dejected irony she employs is nothing more than a shield. Eilish’s breath control ties the song and album together perfectly. While “Happier Than Ever” doesn’t fully tap into her potential, it is a big step forward for Billie Eilish.