The teaser trailer that dropped on March 2 showed a collection of wavering handheld shots, depicting a harried Annie Clark in a blond wig and trench coat running the green-tinted halls of an aged Manhattan apartment building, frantically searching for a ringing phone. Upon locating and answering said phone, the screen cut to black, offering up the title Daddy’s Home and a phone number (1-833-77-DADDY, naturally). These images seemed to synthesize the vibe of the fabled exploitation films screened in formerly grungy Times Square, with the danger and provocation of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, and maybe a bit of Chantal Akerman’s Hotel Monterrey if you wish to be generous. When one dialed the aforementioned DADDY number, they were greeted by a sampling of soon-to-be-single “Pay Your Way in Pain” accompanied with a cinematic voice recording that announced “She’s back, in a new role like you’ve never seen her before.”
And indeed, the arrival of Daddy’s Home marks another recalibration of Annie Clark’s St. Vincent persona, though more dramatically (and goofily) than she’s previously allowed for. The sixth solo album under the St. Vincent moniker, Daddy’s Home finds Clark reteaming with the ever game Jack Antonoff (co-producing and assisting with analog synths and other such instrumentation), doing a superficial u-turn away from the cleaner, faux-futuristic pop music of 2017’s Masseduction on which they first collaborated. Daddy’s Home has them taking it back to the New York City of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, or else the New York City of the late ‘60/early ‘70s as it lives on in media depictions and the ever malleable cultural memory. St. Vincent’s newest role, it would seem, is a person who really likes classic rock, a persona the chameleonic art rocker inhabits with little friction, composing a collection of 14 expensive-sounding songs (including three “Humming Interlude”s) that cover a range of influences stretching from The Beatles to David Bowie.
There’s a point at which listing off similar-sounding musical acts stops being a useful means of assessing an artist, but to be clear, Daddy’s Home is an album of self-conscious pastiche, one that indulges interpolation to recall Bowie’s Young Americans (the aforementioned “Pay Your Way in Pain” a reworking of that album’s “Fame”) and Sheena Easton’s “9 to 5” (the cutesy “My Baby Wants a Baby”), among others. This is in part a reference to the traditions of funk and soul music that supposedly inspired the album’s aesthetic (music press made a fuss about Clark listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder and Sly & The Family Stone in the lead up to recordings), but the way in which it’s employed on Daddy’s Home only serves to affirm this as more marketing than anything else, George Harrison’s influence weighted much more heavily than Sly Stone’s (GH’s favored brand of electric sitar serves as the backbone for several of these songs).
Daddy’s Home’s relationship with Black artistry provides an uncomfortable backdrop to what could have been a decent enough selection of contemporized psychedelia (“Living in the Dream” and “The Melting of the Sun” stand out as welcome, back-to-back Pink Floyd tributes), perhaps not outright damning, but curiously invited by the singer in both the marketing and in her (knowingly?) provocative choice to appropriate Bowie’s own appropriation of soul music, evoking the album of his with the most fraught legacy (the gesturing to this era of Lou Reed’s career also inevitably gets one thinking). There’s also the choice to introduce backing vocalists into the mix, specifically on the album’s title track, which directly addresses the narrative that informs the album’s arc. As Clark sings over a melody she describes as “a slow reggae” (hmm) about her father’s release from white-collar prison (which, of course, concurs with her own maturation and ascension into the role of “Daddy”), her usual sing-songy vocals are adorned by the combined voices of Lynne Fiddmont-Lindsey and Kenya Hathaway, Black backing vocalists here to accentuate and authenticate (Lou Reed again coming back to mind).
This obliviousness extends into the album’s closing number (besides the final “Humming Interlude”), “Candy Darling,” an ostensible ode to the Warhol Factory star from whom Clark’s blond wig look was pilfered. One of the first, very visible, out trans celebrities, Darling’s memory and the iconography around her has long been misappropriated and disrespected, with Clark’s contribution proving no different. An otherwise pretty, wistful ballad recalling those of The Velvet Underground (whose own ode to Darling, “Candy Says,” is more likely what St. Vincent is actually responding to here), “Candy Darling” is more interested in ways the Women in Revolt star’s name can be toyed with lyrically, and how she straddled the line between high and low art (symbolized by “bodega roses,” Clark’s attempts to assure you she’s a true New Yorker getting increasingly desperate). It’s an oblivious misuse of Darling’s legacy, one indicative of the careless way Clark and Antonoff have borrowed and stitched together the reference points that constitute Daddy’s Home. The album never amounts to more than the sum of these parts, and when taken individually, they paint a dubious picture of Clark’s cultural astuteness. The mystique and playfulness that once made St. Vincent such a captivating pop act isn’t apparent on Daddy’s Home, replaced by a crass desire to become, well… Daddy. The apostrophe in the album’s title is meant to most immediately indicate a contraction, sure, but why not read it as possessive? For Annie Clark, there’s no particular problem with the home in question; it’s actually that she has yet to be recognized as its rightful patriarch.
PDE rap artist and cousin to 21 Savage, Young Nudy has enjoyed some good proximity to America’s most substantial contemporary arts scene and the personalities at its forefront. These associations and their related access have carried Nudy to some level of popularity these last six years or so. And his skills as a vocalist are not inconsiderable, though they do generally lack definition, which may explain why his success has been mostly in conjunction with the ingenious Pi’erre Bourne, his frequent collaborator (going back to the first Slimeball mixtape in 2016). Pi’erre’s singular production aesthetic has been instrumental in shaping the Young Nudy sound, providing some otherwise absent character, and bolstering his discography. Their best work finds Nudy’s atonal, rattled-off delivery subsumed in the beautiful stream of flutes and arpeggiated video game keys — an approach most fully realized on 2019’s impeccable Sli’merre (those sessions birthing the iconic, unreleased Carti-featuring “Pissy Pamper”). That album, being a sort of culmination of many years of collaboration, seems to be the duo’s high point, one their happy to leave off at for the time being (though they did both work on the Lil Uzi Vert V.S. the World 2 track “Money Spread” last year). Pi’erre has since moved on to solo work, while Nudy released his first true solo album, Anyways, in 2020.
Keeping to a steady pace, Young Nudy now returns with a follow-up, Dr. Ev4l, which brings along entrusted producers 20Rocket, Mojo Krazy, and COUPE (responsible for half the songs here) as well as a couple newer names handling beats. As sort of implied by the title and spooky album art (Nudy as both his Chuckie-esque puppet alter ego from the Slimeball mixtapes and as a sinister puppet master), Dr. Ev4l has vague horrorcore aspirations that the assembled producing talent more or less realize. COUPE’s beats on “Revenge” and “Mini Me” (which all but confirm an intentional Austin Powers reference, though nothing else here suggests this) serve as a template for the rest of the producers to work from, resulting in a project that is aesthetically consistent, if rather uninspired. Regardless of producer, each song sounds about the same, minimal trap dressed up with heavy, dark bass and some occasional voice mod on Nudy to make his grimacing delivery extra snarly. For his part as the album’s almost sole writer (the exception being features and lead single “2Face”, which gives writing credit to its producers as well), Nudy takes on a cold, cruel perspective, relating fantasies of murder and memories of mean-spirited sex in simple, direct detail. Structurally, these songs are built around lengthy, often looping choruses that rival the actual verses in length, making each song feel rather dense and numbing. A couple guest features help break things up: Lil Uzi Vert on “Yellow Tape” introducing desperately needed melodicism to the proceedings, and 21 Savage on “Child’s Play” brings the project as close as it gets to true horrorcore (G Herbo somewhere in there too though). But songs on Dr. Ev4l have a habit of bleeding into one another, becoming ill-defined and monotonous along the way; it’s not an objectionable album, but a frustratingly unmotivated one. Dr. Ev4l’s future cultural significance will likely hinge on Nudy’s decision to mint NFT’s of the album (someone out there has one of a kind “day-in-the-life footage of Young Nudy” the rest of us can only try our best to imagine) for auction, and have little to do with any of the music on it.
After putting out his first two solo records last year, PC Music founder AG Cook returns with a remix album comprising work from both those releases, titled Apple vs. 7G. This remix album builds out from the hyper-pop sound that characterized the two original sets it draws from, taking the next logical step for Cook’s music. When he founded PC Music, Cook was primarily a producer, gaining popularity as the creative director behind much of Charli XCX’s work. The sound that he produced was not only accessible (to a certain listener anyway), but it was innovative and different from anything else at the time. Which is to say, there’s a very short line to draw between Cook’s work in the early 2010s and the recent popularity of a group like InRO favorite 100 Gecs. Cook also would treat each obscure artist on his label’s roster as if they were a massive popstar just through the way their music was promoted and released — in effect, pushing a sound that has now indeed entered the mainstream. It’s because of such innovative strategies that a remix album from Cook is such an enticing idea, especially with the boundaries that were already being pushed on both 7G and Apple, respectively. The genre reach is broad: “Oh Yeah” features a prime form Caroline Polachek (formerly of Chairlift) hitting the hyper-pop highs characteristic of Cook’s sound, while “H2O2” delves into rapping, courtesy of some verses from Denzel Himself, and “Lil Song (unplugged)” utilizes a bit of acoustic guitar, which it drops into the maelstrom of Cook’s chopped-up and rhythmic sonic textures. If that all makes this sound like a disjointed listen, well, it is — but that’s also part of the appeal. Remix albums tend to offer this kind of fractured listening experience, and that end seems twice as likely considering this one sources two separate albums. The nearly hour-and-a-half runtime can be a bit of a struggle admittedly, but it’s best to think of Apple vs. 7G as a kind of “greatest hits” collection — albeit made-up of songs you’ve never heard sounding like this before, which actually works on a theoretical level. Cook stayed busy throughout the pandemic, putting on two digital festivals and producing an entire Charli XCX album, in addition to his own recorded output; his albums sound a bit like a soundtrack to that chaotic schedule, with a lot going on in each corner of every track, which also gives the works a strong and refreshed replay value. Apple vs. 7G proves that, despite all that Cook has on his plate, he doesn’t sound tired; he’s still innovating, pushing his sound forward.
On his fourth album, Private Reasons, Portuguese songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Bruno Pernadas reunites with collaborators old and new to craft an audacious psychedelic pop record that’s beauty is as massive as its curiosity. Effortlessly flowing from pop sounds channeling the beach, psychedelia, and the space age to jazz, modern classical, and impressionism, Pernadas takes us on a sensory journey ripe with dazzling vocal production and bizarre solos. Take the single, “Theme Vision,” a sweet, mostly simple psychedelic pop song that breaks into slinky, piercing moments from an unplaceable soloing instrument. After the second instance of this, the ensembles build and build, only to disappear into a final coda of beautiful women’s voices layered, singing the last thing you’d want to hear: “I may not want you, but oh, what a time to tell you.” They mock stunningly and acidicly: “Who would’ve known since you left me before, who would have guessed you’d be lonely?” On the next track, a two-part suite called Little Seasons, graceful, feminine voices once again sing apathetically of a suitor’s love, outfitted with a chamber group composed of strings, wind instruments, and kit. For the second part, the vocals subside and the instrumentalists hint at impressionistic moments in highlight “Step Out of the Light.” Here, the piano plays a soft melody, moving up and down a scale and joined by evocative, trembling strings and a trilling flute. After a couple minutes of this, altos join in, and the track bursts into a pop song with jazz fusion elements and a danceable groove. The nine-minute track expands many times and plants a number of false endings, allowing room for several members of the ensemble to play tender solos through the outro.
Elsewhere, disparate sounds shine through. “Fuzzy Soul,” an earlier track and one of the shortest, sounds like a sonic (and thematic) fit for Thundercat’s oeuvre, as Pernadas sings through a hazy, dream-like filter about a cat sitting on his lap, one he once owned but now apparently belongs to an ex. This is one of the most straightforward cuts on the album, but also contains a heavily-edited moment that seems to feature a singer and flugelhorn in unison, because even simple moments are treated with care and originality in Pernadas’ discography. Every track on Private Reasons contains a surprise, like the harp solo and lovely Korean vocals by Minji Kim in the “Jory” suite and the timpani, percussion grooves, and flute solo in “Brio 81.” Pernadas has delivered another gorgeous invitation to join him on the beach and bask in simple beauties, and the ensemble has never sounded more precious and expansive.
The industry has certainly tried its best to cast iLoveMakonnen aside, getting two massive hits out of the Atlanta trap artist in the Summer of 2014 (though the popularity of “Tuesday” and “I Don’t Sell Molly No More” has never really waned) before swallowing him up into a contractual limbo. Makonnen’s apparent blacklisting came about as the result of the standard conflicts faced by the independent artist looking to cross over to a major label (culminating in a public falling out with initial cosigner/co-opter Drake), but also compounded by alarming homophobic backlash within the industry and from ostensible peers following his coming out on social media in early 2017. These embattled years saw Makonnen’s output wind down a bit, though it never came to a complete halt, dropping low stakes pseudo-EPs on social media and SoundCloud (iLoveAmerica and an unofficial collaborative project with Ronny J, both in 2018) as well as the more official M3 in 2019, but the music press were also quick to throw him under the bus, so eagerly elevated just a few years earlier (Pitchfork Music Festival 2015!) only to be ignored or dismissed as dated viral fluff thereafter.
My Parade hopes to set the record straight and reassert iLoveMakonnen as one of the genre’s great contemporary innovators, able to croon and rap across an eclectic range of beats and instrumentation with a singular mix of whimsy and edge. This marks Makonnen’s first album free from both OVO and Warner Music, and in fact, Makonnen’s first full-length album in general, which presents him with an opportunity to celebrate and recontextualize his artistry. All of that comes across on My Parade without being articulated literally, instead made apparent in the design of the album, which encompasses a swath of disparate, recent trap and R&B variants that Makonnen floats across without resistance. The rapper’s ability to work his warbly croon and elastic flow into cloud rap and acoustic emo compositions alike continues to impress, and the intimacy of My Parade’s production team (each song is produced by one, or some combination, of Makonnen, CAMOTOP, SickDrumz, and Saint Patrick) help to maintain a sense of consistency that stabilizes this somewhat unwieldy project. Over the course of the well-curated 39-minute runtime, Makonnen slips between moody late-night heartthrob tunes with “2SEXY” and “If It’s Cool,” and trap anthems of the sort that brought him his initial bout of attention. Songs like “Whip it Harder,” “Whoopsy” (featuring a very hot verse from 17-year-old rapper PAYDAY), and “More Bitches than the Mayor” (a reteam with the like-minded Lil B, serving as a proper spiritual sequel to Black Ken standout “Global”) remind that Makonnen’s take on this sort of outsized trap rave (sort of an endangered subgenre at this point) was generally funnier and more imaginative than the interpretations of his contemporaries, remaining that way still. Elsewhere, My Parade pivots into emo balladry on “I Can See It In Your Eyes” and “What You Tryna Do,” with Makonnen picking up an acoustic guitar to recount heavy tales of sex, drugs, and heartbreak, bringing to mind fallen collaborator and friend Lil Peep. Regret and uncertainty come up in moments on My Parade, particularly noticeable in contrast to the album’s otherwise aggressively confident tone, though never directed in any one particular place. As much as My Parade is a vibrant celebration of artistic autonomy, it’s also a reorienting project for iLoveMakonnen after many years of impeded movement, which is echoed by those moments of tonal shift. Some of this may also contribute to the sense that My Parade’s vision isn’t 100% unified — the album’s most significant flaw — but where sequencing may feel mildly haphazard, there’s also promise of the massive canvas iLoveMakonnen is setting out to cover.
The Saharan Shredder, Mahamadou Souleymane aka Mdou Moctar (also the lately-formed full band’s moniker), returns with his sixth studio album, Afrique Victime, recorded largely during small breaks in his tour for previous record Ilana (The Creator). This latest sticks largely with the Tuareg guitar stylings of the previous albums, with an increased focus on innovative jams and psych rock hooks that settle deep in your brain.
The album opens with a fast-paced riff, leading directly into the band’s familiar call-and-response style vocals on “Chismiten,” a track immediately suggesting an urgency that will follow across the album. The drums’ pacing is intentionally speedy, the impression something like a revving car before a street race. While the raucous drumbeat is a driving force behind the song, its energy soon gives way to the track’s ultimate star, its soaring guitar, gliding through the song not unlike the eagle pictured on the album’s cover. The self-taught artist’s style of open-fingered strumming lends a unique edge to his tracks, a sharpness that cuts through but also complements all other sounds, and it keeps attention of this intended focal point as tracks like “Tailat,” “Ya Habibti,” and “Afrique Victime” are raced through. But amidst these cuts are others that are distinctly vocals-forward, like album highlights “Tala Tannam” and “Layla,” where the sound is filled out by epic, unified group harmonies. It’s in these precise, complex stylings that Mdou Moctar separate themselves from bands like Tinariwen, who occupy a similar space of desert blues-style music. That’s not a knock on the latter, but to say — without exaggeration — that no one is making music like Mdou Moctar right now, which is what makes Afrique Victime a compelling listen. This instinct for singularity also reflects Souleymane’s philosophy and is what drives the frontman to continue making music; in a number of interviews, he has articulated his distaste for studio overproduction, feeling that it lessens the listening experience to have someone manipulating what’s already been recorded. Instead, both in his recordings and live work, he opts for an improvisational sound that keeps listeners guessing from note to note — the spirit of his work somewhere on the spectrum next to jazz and jam — riffing on a broken-down two or three chords per song.
Moctar’s story is known: beginning as a young kid in Niger whose parents thought playing electric guitar was sinful, the musician’s recordings started to gain traction on the cell phone trading networks of the mid-aughts. Like any who face such conservative circumstances, he was going to need to evolve and innovate to make it out of his small town. Afrique Victime is only his second album with a full band, but that knowledge and instinct remains ever-present, the music boasting as much surprise as it does expert, memorable musicianship.