2023 Album Review

2023 Album Review

2023 has been a turning point for music with many artists (like Lil Yachty) switching styles and others (like Sampha) perfecting old ones. New innovative rappers and producers are popping up in the industry, giving multiple artists the opportunity to make a name for themselves, such as Metro Boomin. Sites such as Pitchfork rate, review, and analyze music and have brought large amounts of recognition to some of these albums.

“Lahai” by Sampha
Pitchfork rating: 7

Sampha’s “Lahai” stands out from the rest of the R&B genre, commanding attention with its elevating quality. Tracks like “Jonathan L. Seagull” weave compelling stories drawing inspiration from Richard Bach’s novel by the same name.

The narrative revolves around a seagull who was ousted from its flock for challenging conventional beliefs, and embarked on a journey of self-discovery into a realm where like-minded spirits soar peacefully through the skies. Throughout the song, softer, less aggressive beats prevail, and contribute to the overall thematic coherence. Pitchfork describes “Jonathan L. Seagull” as “a composition that literally uplifts the listener.”

This emotional depth extends to tracks like “Spirit 2.0,” where Sampha revisits the seagull metaphor, symbolizing progress and the courage needed to take the next step.

Sampha’s musical expression resonates universally, highlighting the effect that harmonizing beats paired with an artist’s message can have. Pitchfork draws parallels between the beats used by Erykah Badu, an experimental R&B artist from the late ’90s and early 2000s, to Sampha’s ability to use his voice as an instrument and blend it seamlessly. A distinctive aspect of “Lahai” is that Sampha took on the role of the producer, which highlights the connection he has with the music.

Beyond “Lahai,” Sampha’s discography includes noteworthy works such as “Process” and collaborations with prominent artists like Drake and Kendrick Lamar. “Lahai” stands as a testament to Sampha’s artistic prowess, making it a compelling addition to the musical landscape of 2023.

 

“Utopia” by Travis Scott
Pitchfork rating: 5.7

Travis Scott’s new album, “Utopia,” has been one of the most eagerly anticipated releases in recent years, dropping a significant five-years after his previous album, “Astroworld.”

The thematic core of “Utopia” is best expressed in the track “SIRENS.” This song delves into the nuanced concept that someone’s “utopia” may be another’s “dystopia”.

The album provides a diverse listening experience, incorporating ethereal beats while also introducing exceptionally fast-paced beats that work well alongside each other. Travis Scott was heavy handed with artist features on “Utopia,” to the extent that without prior knowledge, someone might not recognize some tracks as Travis Scott’s own. While this emphasis on bringing popular artists together garnered attention and discourse, especially in reviews by outlets like Pitchfork, it doesn’t necessarily diminish the album’s overall impact. Instead, it prompts a desire for more pronounced individuality from Travis Scott in future releases.

A notable change for Travis Scott, who is not historically not known for lyrical depth, is evident in the track, “My Eyes.” The song begins with a slow deliberate pace, a heavy use of auto-tune, and a seemingly straightforward beat. Then the song surprises the listener when Travis Scott addresses the tragedies that occurred at his “Astroworld” performances and offers a poignant reflection on his experiences.

The album concludes with “TIL FURTHER NOTICE” featuring 21 Savage and James Blake. This track ends with a woman’s vocals singing, “Where will you go now? Now that you’re done—Till further notice,” serving as a verbal conclusion to the album. This echoes a pattern observed in “Astroworld’s” final track, “COFFEE BEAN.” Travis Scott concludes the album with the phrase, “This is all” suggesting the potential for future releases.

In its entirety, “Utopia” stands as the pinnacle of Travis Scott’s career and artistic output, and marks a transformation in his musical trajectory.

 

“And Then You Pray For Me” by Westside Gunn
Pitchfork rating: 6.9

Westside Gunn has stuck to his artistic strengths throughout his career, and his latest album, “And Then You Pray For Me,” maintains this consistency, but with a twist …
While preserving his signature rhythms and sharp vocal delivery, he introduces a new element, turning to classic trap for inspiration on many tracks. In a creative endeavor, he samples a diverse range of music genres, infusing his vocals to create a unique sound, however, he doesn’t do this alone. He enlists the talents of featured artists such as DJ Drama, Rick Ross, Denzel Curry, and others.
Overarching themes of faith, authenticity, and human connection are seen throughout the entire album, delving into the notion that every experience contributes to one’s journey of self-discovery.
The album opens with “Fly God Did (feat. AA Rashid),” a lyrical masterpiece set to a slower tempo. Notable bars such as “The wise among you will always do the knowledge twice,” underscore the importance of education and the pursuit of knowledge.
Another standout track, “Kostas (feat. Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher),” features a faster beat while delivering impactful bars such as “You could’ve made it out of that struggle/ But you’d rather hate and you lack hustle.” This reflects on the desire to escape hardship in favor of success and acknowledges those who choose envy and animosity over putting in the effort to achieve success. The album consistently explores themes of wealth and success, as well as Westside Gunn’s opulent lifestyle, and his dismissal of those who doubt him.
The album’s culmination, “And Then You Pray For Me (feat. KayCyy),” serves as a fitting conclusion, delving into Westside Gunn’s personal experiences and journeys. The track explores the artists faith in God and its profound impact on their lives. In the outro, KayCyy emphasizes the significance of prayer, inviting listeners to pray for him and the rest of the world.
“And Then You Pray For Me” stands as a testament to Westside Gunn’s artistic evolution and thematic depth, solidifying his place in the hip-hop landscape.

 


“Larger Than Life” by Brent Faiyaz
Pitchfork rating: 7

Brent Faiyaz surprised fans by dropping his third album, “Larger Than Life,” without warning on Oct. 27, a continuation of the narrative of his rollercoaster life. He has openly grappled with intense depression and feelings of loneliness, as described in his EP “Lost.”

Faiyaz maintains his rap-infused singing style, but what sets this album apart are the unexpected features and how he seamlessly adapts to artists who typically wouldn’t align with his genre.

In “Moment Of Your Life,” featuring Coco Jones, the contrast of Jones’s powerful vocals against Faiyaz’s calm and relaxed demeanor creates a beautiful duo, held together by an engaging beat.

Another switch from Faiyaz’s usual collaborations, A$AP Rocky’s appearance in “Outside All Night” doesn’t disappoint. Rocky’s versatile flow finds a perfect middle ground amidst Faiyaz’s beats, which resulted in an instant hit with fans and the media alike.

In addition to the varied collaborations, Faiyaz also shines on his solo tracks on “Larger Than Life.” Overall, Faiyaz’s album brings together a diverse set of artists to create a must-listen experience that showcases his ability to collaborate across genres while maintaining his own musical identity.

 

“VOIR DIRE” by Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist
Pitchfork rating: 7.8

“VOIR DIRE” stood out from other albums even before its official release. The 27-minute project by Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist had a distinctive launch, unveiled slowly through puzzles on the streaming platform, Gala Music. Each day, a solvable puzzle offered a hint about the album, accompanied by NFT animated artwork for each song on the Gala Music website.

Pitchfork describes The Alchemist as having an “eclectic ear,” in this project, which is a shift from his usual style. He incorporates guitars, keys, and even vinyl skipping vocal loops, which is when you take a sample and repeat it throughout a song.

The album opens with “100 High Street,” a song that establishes a soft beat with an almost lazy rap style. While Earl’s pronunciation may be slurred, his thought-provoking lyrics reveal anything but laziness. The contrast between Earl’s voice and the soft beats, along with minimal choruses, turns the album into a musical storytelling journey.

Earl employs easy-to-understand wordplay, making the album more accessible. He delves into different aspects of his life and experiences, portraying the emotional rollercoaster and struggles that shaped him.

Unlike traditional album presentations, “VOIR DIRE” doesn’t follow a specific order, instead, it jumps around from song to song. The track “Free the Ruler” is the album’s finale, dedicated to Drakeo the Ruler, who tragically lost his life in 2021. The song explores themes of personal growth, resilience, and liberation, concluding with a conversation between two individuals. This exchange hints at Earl facing his problems head-on, echoing the themes expressed throughout the album.

Overall, “VOIR DIRE” offers a must-listen experience, enriched by its interactive release and the compelling storytelling woven into its unique musical fabric.

 

“Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.” by Lana Del Rey
Pitchfork rating: 8.3

If rap or R&B isn’t your preferred genre, Lana Del Rey’s “Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” might be more to your taste. Lana Del Rey’s emotionally charged lyrics delve into her struggles with suicidal thoughts, a topic she has been open about in many interviews. Rather than succumbing to these unhealthy thoughts, she channels her emotions into music, using it as a means to share with the world the depths of her feelings.

The opening track, “The Grants,” sets the tone as Lana Del Rey expresses her emotions about her family. She sings about her fear of her father, a fisherman, and her attempts to influence her brother to quit smoking, among other concerns.

Throughout tracks like “The Grants,” “Sweet,” and “Fingertips,” Lana Del Ray questions her suitability for motherhood. In “Fingertips,” she asks, “Will I have one of mine?” and wonders if she can handle it, if she does.

Lana Del Rey has discussed in various interviews how her emotions play a crucial role in her songwriting and creative process. This album provides a relatable exploration of questioning self-worth and offers a profound perspective into another person’s emotions. If you appreciate softer, slower styles of music, this album is worth checking out.

 

“A great chaos” by Ken Carson
Pitchfork rating: 7.8

Ken Carson first introduced “A Great Chaos” in December of 2022, teasing fans with a single song, “I Need U”. The song blew up, and after a lengthy 10-month wait, he officially dropped the complete album on Oct. 13, 2023.

Over the years, Ken Carson has earned various titles, from “Playboi Carti protege turned star” to “fashion icon.” However, he doesn’t often receive recognition for being a necessarily skilled rapper. Previous critiques, especially of albums like “X” and “Project X,” described Carson’s raps as “glazed Auto-Tune,” with only occasional attempts to “inject vitality.”

In “A Great Chaos,” Carson breaks from this pattern, unleashing his full potential to deliver remarkable bars that put much of his past work to shame. The energy in Carson’s singing breathes life into the beats, marking what we could hope is a turning point in his career.

The album kicks off with the song “Green Room,” a reflection on Carson’s journey from a humble upbringing to newfound affluence through his rap career. He contemplates how his elevated status has influenced perceptions of him, questioning whether those who once disregarded him are now seeking friendship solely due to his fame and wealth. The song delves into his mental health and past struggles, setting a thematic tone for the album.

Some standout tracks on the album include “Jennifer’s Body,” “Paranoid (feat. Destroy Lonely),” and “Singapore (feat. Destroy Lonely),” While the album boasts numerous quality tracks, these showcase Carson’s talent at its peak.

“A Great Chaos” emerges as a compelling addition to Ken Carson’s discography, positioning him once again among the ranks of noteworthy rappers.

 

Wyatt Fauver

“Call Me If You Get Lost: The Estate Sale” by Tyler, The Creator
Pitchfork rating: 8
Call Me If You Get Lost: Estate Sale” was released almost two years after the original album, which has been widely recognized as one of Tyler The Creator’s best. The deluxe version only elevated the album, introducing new tracks like “Sorry not Sorry” and “Wharf Talk,” among others.

Both albums kick off with DJ Drama’s presence in “Sir Baudelaire,” followed by “CORSO,” and so on, leading to the first new track, “Everything Must Go,” a short song (only 30 seconds) that serves as an introduction to the new content.

The first true track on the deluxe is “Stuntman,” featuring Vince Staples, which was an impactful choice to kick off the deluxe edition. Lyrics such as “Big pearl on the belt makes my belly seem swole,” hint at the luxurious lifestyle shared by the two artists.

Another noteworthy addition to the deluxe version is “Wharf Talk,” featuring ASAP Rocky, which is arguably one of the album’s highlights. The song begins with Tyler The Creator singing, “If God is here with us today, I think I know what he would say … you’re so beautiful, and your lips look nice.” This sentiment becomes a central theme as Tyler The Creator raps about his desire to escape with a companion to a distant place free from concerns and responsibilities. He articulates the aspiration for the “wharf” to communicate with them, symbolizing a connection guided by the soothing sounds of water leading them to their destination.

The deluxe edition concludes with another standout Tyler The Creator track, “Sorry not Sorry.” This song features a mellow beat that gradually intensifies throughout its progression. Initially, Tyler The Creator sings an apologetic refrain about not being as present in the lives of his loved ones as he desires. As the song unfolds, he becomes more assertive, challenging opposing viewpoints and an accelerating tempo mirrors this shift in perspective. Tyler also addresses social injustice, expressing regret for not contributing more to the fight against the injustices faced by the Black community.

These additional tracks, along with others on the deluxe version, reaffirm the thematic elements explored in the original album: success, love, and loneliness.

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