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Album Audit: Vince Staples, DJ Khaled And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 06/26/2017

Album Audit is a weekly Interns feature, recapping and reviewing the album releases of the week with a cheeky score out of five.

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

Vince Staples recently told Pitchfork that he’s got “less than five” unreleased songs. That’s almost unheard of for any artist but for Staples it’s a matter of quality not quantity and it’s something that’s inherently clear on his second LP Big Fish Theory. Everything about this record is concise. It’s 11 tracks long (including two interludes) and none of the songs feature a myriad of words unlike his rap-led debut Summertime ’06. Instead of packing it full of throwaway fillers, Staples chooses every word and detail carefully and it all culminates in one of the year’s best record.

Big Fish Theory is as much a dance record as it is a hip-hop record. Flume, SOPHIE, GTA and Jimmy Edgar all have production credits with Staples using the hard-hitting beats to add even more power to this words. Crabs In A Bucket opens the album with house-inspired vocal samples while Staples’ raps, “I used to look up to the sky, now I’m over shit.” Carefully placed lines like this give us personal insights into Staples’ beliefs. From there, we move into the club-ready Big Fish and then get hit with the pulsating Love Can Be…. Staples doesn’t come in until well after the 1 minute mark but he makes the best use of his time referencing Kendrick Lamar with the line, “No shotgun seat, this dick ain’t free.”

The record may be set in the club but it doesn’t mean that Staples isn’t looking outside. The SOPHIE-produced Party People sees him rap, “How I’m supposed to have a good time/When death and destruction’s all I see?”. On Bagbak he takes aim at Donald Trump rapping, “Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now.” Not every line on this record is political. This is no To Pimp A Butterfly. But Staples chooses his moments carefully. Over the damning bass of Rain Come Down he raps, “the cops don’t come for some weeks,” addressing police’s response to white victims versus black victims.

Staples finally collaborates with Kendrick Lamar for the first time on Yeah Right unexpectedly meeting over a Flume and SOPHIE beat. No one could have predicted this is how they’d meet but that’s what’s so thrilling about it. And what’s so thrilling about the album as a whole. Staples controls his own narrative and while you may have thought you had him pegged on Summertime ’06 he’s swiftly changed directions on this album. Given how little unreleased music he has in his vault you get the feeling he sees what he wants and he makes it with little waste. Big Fish Theory is an immaculate vision. It’s a powerful, carefully crafted and experimental project that subtly conjures images of the personal and the powerful. 4.5/5

DJ Khaled – Grateful

It’s hard to approach DJ Khaled‘s Grateful as an album. At 22 tracks long, it’s a marathon and one that doesn’t run in any sort of logical order. In fact, the only thing that seems to tie these songs together is his tag which gets painful by track five. There are hits (I’m The One, Wild Thoughts), deep cuts (Iced Out My Arms, Good Man) and huge, soulful jams (Nobody, I Love You So Much). The guest list is stacked with the greatest names in hip-hop right now but none of them contribute their best work to the project which is basically a compilation of what hip-hop/R&B looks like in 2017.

Apart from his incessant slogans and heartfelt dedication to his son and the executive producer of the record Asahd, Khaled doesn’t have much of a voice on Grateful. Sure, he’s a producer and not a lyricist but it’s stylistically so all over the place that it’s hard to understand what Khaled’s aiming for. The aesthetic is directed by Khaled’s guests rather than Khaled himself. When Calvin Harris appears on highlight Don’t Quit it sounds like a Harris song, when Migos turn up on Major Bag Alert it sounds like a Culture cut and The Range Rover Came With Steps would’ve slotted nicely onto Future’s Future. Khaled is essentially a vessel for these songs but after 22 songs it starts to feel like he’s throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks. Maybe putting an 8 month old in charge wasn’t a great idea.

There are good songs here, one’s that do stick, but there’s nothing remarkable. Wild Thoughts is the highlight here because of Rihanna’s effortless delivery but you won’t find anything that sounds like that here. The best approach to Grateful is to treat it as your own pick ‘n’ mix. Do your own edit and maybe you’ll find the diamonds in the rough. 2/5

The Aces – I Don’t Like Being Honest EP

Many will be quick to call The Aces the next HAIM. The Utah, all-girl, four-piece features two sisters and a sound that finds the sweet spot between rock and pop but while they tick many of the same boxes, they’re not the next HAIM. They’re The Aces, a band that’s doing their own thing and not looking to take anyone’s place. I Don’t Like Being Honest is the prelude to a forthcoming album and it suitably introduces us to their melodic, ’80s-tinged sound.

It’s only got four tracks on it but every track is as strong as the next, positioning the girls as a band that could rule the airwaves and suit the alternative crowd. Physical brings a breezy, sun-struck chorus that’s complimented by groovy verses and Touch races with a lustful vigour. The standout here is the warm Baby Who which boasts a chorus somewhere between funk and pop with a melody that swells your head for days. The EP is surely a sign of plenty of good stuff to come. 3.5/5

Crooked Colours – Vera

It took a little while for Aussie trio Crooked Colours to deliver their debut record but it finally arrived. Appropriately the record is finely nuanced, making it clear that the boys have sweat over every little sound and silence. That may explain the absence but it also seems that the break was necessary because they’re a much better band now.

Early cuts Capricious and In Your Bones were exciting but Vera is far more mature. Everything from the production to the lyrics is more finessed, making the record shine with the minute detailing of an Alt-J project. Crooked Colours live in that world of weird, experimental yet warm music and that aesthetic kicks in right from the get-go. Flow subtly eases us in with sultry vocals and equally seductive guitars before stepping on the beat and amping up the tempo. The album is at it’s most exciting when they’re relying on bigger soundscapes. Ivan Ooze tackles a meaty beat with them on I Hope You Get It and the title track gets weird with some more experimental production. The wobbly, attacking drop of Shine On gives an otherwise demure song power. That’s not to discount the simpler moments. Perfect Run‘s four-to-the-floor beat makes for a euphoric closer and Plymouth‘s warm bass make it the most endearing cut of the LP.

Vera is a concise, cohesive debut that takes elements from every popular sphere of production right now and fuses them together to make something that works. The production is near-perfect with every detail commanding your ears in some way. It’d be interesting to here what they did if they went even more wilder but for now, their restraint is impressive. 3.5/5