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Album Audit: A$AP Ferg, ZHU And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 08/21/2017

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

A$AP Ferg – Still Striving

Album Of The Week

A$AP Ferg‘s last record Always Strive And Prosper was good but it aimed at a commercial space with dance tracks, like Strive and Hungry Ham, that never quite penetrated it. His follow-up mixtape Still Striving sees him ditch that for a record that’s exclusively hip-hop centred. From the guests to the producers, this is a mixtape that positions Ferg as just a rapper and a very good one at that.

He goes toe-to-toe with Migos, A$AP Rocky, Meek Mill and heaps more, never letting them steal his show. Mill brings an incredibly strong verse to opener Trap And A Dream but Ferg provides a hunger and speed that totally outshines. And it’s that determination that makes Still Striving so good. Ferg has never sounded so focussed and centred. On Mad Men Playboi Carti raps, “stop all the goofy shit,” and Ferg obviously heeds the advice as he’s not gimmicky once here.

Plain Jane has the potential virality of Bad And Boujee while remaining intelligently autobiographical with lyrics like, “Momma see me on BET and started tearin’ up.” Other highlight One Night Savage with MadeinTYO is strikingly dark but also sees Ferg deliver one of his most unexpected and strongest hooks. Even on Nasty (Who Dat) which features hook king Quavo, his melodic work in the bridge shines through.

It’s very clear that in all aspects Ferg is becoming a better, harder and more melodic rapper. There are very few silly moments on here, unlike his other records, and as a result his writing has become more honest. Tango, which painfully discusses the death of his father and A$AP Yams, is the most heartfelt thing he’s ever put out digging deep with lines like, “Ain’t go to court because my heart was still bleedin’.” Powerful and unexpected. 4

ZHU – stardustexhalemarrakechdreams

ZHU is simultaneously responsible for the best and worst electronic music of the past few years. The enigmatic producer has been both thrilling () and painfully bland (Generationwhy) but thankfully his latest EP aims mostly for the former. He’s always been a distinctly dark producer but on this latest EP he goes ever further in, at times making it sound like the soundtrack to a thriller.

The opener Stardust draws you in with pulsating beats and an eerie, sweeping synth before Exhale takes over with its trap tempo and dizzying strings. These are true instrumentals moving away from the pop-leaning vocals which made his debut album so middle-of-the-road and dull. Instead of making space for vocals he fills it with brassy synths and the occasional vocal sample.

Cashing Marrakech may be the most interesting, textured thing he’s ever done, beginning with old school samples and maintaing a distinctly vintage feel. For a producer who has always tried very hard, sometimes too hard, to be in the future it’s refreshing to hear play with sounds from the past and turn it into something futuristic. Cashing Marrakech is a twinkling epic and feels like the first time ZHU has truly been successful in boundary-pushing for a long time, although he could’ve done without the vocal at the end completely.

The only misstep here is the closer Dreams which seems him team up with Nero for a hearty serving of bass which aims to be epic but falls spectacularly short. It’s an assault on the senses that’s difficult to keep interested in for longer than a minute. For an EP that takes many left turns, Dreams is a drive straight down the centre that falls back on his old tricks. 3

Yeo – Desire Path

Yeo has been making some of the best left-centre pop tunes in the country for a little while now but his latest album Desire Path feels like he’s progressed beyond his previous work. The Melbourne muso has always occupied a quirky alt-pop space but on this latest effort he delivers some of his most straight-up pop songs yet. Interestingly, it’s his most collaborative record but also his most personal touching on love, death and the ins and outs of dating.

Opener Never Wanted That recruits Asta for a duet that feels like the Australian equivalent of Drake and Rihanna’s Too Good. It’s also the biggest ear worm on the record and one of the best local pop tracks of the year. From there the melodic gems keep flowing. Amy details a troubled relationship with a gloriously soulful chorus while Be Your Frand sticks up for the friend zone with a perky and endearing chorus.

The album hits its most personal moment at Leavin‘ – a song about losing a friend to terminal illness. Yeo chooses to keep things minimal, sticking to only a few lyrics (like, “it’s like you’re standing right next to me”) and instead allowing the swelling, late night beat to do the talking. The natural instinct to keep things minimal is something that makes the album so instantly likeable. Plug Me In is beautiful and intimate without the beat doing too much and closer He Ain’t colours with the vocals over a beautifully restrained, steel-drum-laden instrumental.

It’s refreshing to hear an artist who has been away for a while growing the confidence to deliver real emotion over simple melodies and prove pop without trickery can still be deep. 4

Samantha Urbani – Policies & Power EP

It’s been a long time between drinks for Samantha Urbani. She released her debut LP with Friends back in 2012 and since then has released bits and pieces, including collabs with Blood Orange, without truly going solo. The Policies & Power EP is her first official release and if you’ve been tracking Urbani over the last few years, you’re hardly going to be surprised by the late ’80s pop vibe that it delivers.

The ’80s pop aesthetic has been done a lot, and very well, over the past few years. Taylor Swift won a Grammy for 1989, Carly Rae Jepsen became an unlikely cult hero with E.MO.TION and Bleachers’ new album Gone Now piles on the anthemic ’80s vibes. Urbani’s album, however, is a little less immediate, more textured and left-centred. These aren’t clean radio tracks, they’re grimier and even more retro than modern throwbacks.

Urbani loves this era of pop and it’s clear that she’s very good at it. Opener Hints & Implications is a dense, powerful anthem with a chorus that’s big without being forcibly so. Time Time Time does a similar thing except it goes a little funkier, taking things to the dancefloor. All of the five songs have a danceable aspect but it doesn’t mean they’re shallow. This is heartbreak on the dancefloor. Go Deeper gets very personal with lyrics like, “how much violence can silence create?” as does 1 2 3 4 with forthright statements like, “a cheater never wins.”

With such a strong sonic vision, this EP could’ve easily suffered from having more style than substance but her own lyrical poignancy and honesty saves it from that. Urbani also has a natural feel for top line melody and also an acute eye for stylistic detail which means we can have both style and substance. 3.5