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CultureCow: It is all music this week not to mention lyricism is alive and well

by Devin McCue, Sumner Newscow — Once again, gather round to marvel at the influence and success of music juggernaut, Jack Antonoff.  This man cannot stop producing and co-writing the best pop albums of the last few years — excluding Beyoncé and Bruno Mars, of course.  Well Jack is back, but this time not with Taylor Swift or Lorde (please come back Lorde, we miss you), but with Lana Del Ray for her new album Norman (bleeping) Rockwell!  I’ll admit I’ve never been a big Lana Del Ray fan, but this album really won me over and I think it’s one of the best albums of the year.

The tone of the project sounds like they locked Lana and Antonoff in a dark, damp room with a piano and didn’t let them out until they made a classic.  The title of the album alludes to the artist Norman Rockwell who made a name for himself by depicting “traditional American values” including family, free speech, and things of that sort.  Del Ray takes that idea and modernizes it to what she sees as traits of American life today including heartbreak, materialism, and a haunting sense that we have a deep nostalgia for a time that was never that great to begin with. 

Pitchfork wrote in their review that this album solidifies Lana Del Ray as one of the most talented American songwriters alive and that’s easy to see from the opening lines (you can look them up for yourself because I’ll just get censored for writing them myself).  Throughout the near-70 minute album, Lana’s poetry emerges from a deep mist of piano ballads and cover of string instruments that are oddly devoid of the synths and snares Jack Antonoff is so famous for.

There’s no better way to cap off hot girl summer and bring on sad girl autumn than this album to show off the skills of two of the best artists in the game right now.  My favorite songs include: Norman (bleep) Rockwell, Venice (Bleep), (Bleep) it I love you, Love Song (see they don’t all have cuss words (or editor’s bleep)), Bartender, and hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have.

Whereas Lana Del Ray is sad and moody, Earthgang is the life of the party and impossible to contain to one genre.  This Atlanta duo has been breaking barriers for what it means to be a rap group for a decade, but now that they’ve been signed to J. Cole’s label Dreamville their latest record Mirrorland is going to get a much wider audience.  Earthgang is like Outcast in the way that they rap, sing, and forgo traditional beats in favor of more funk-inspired tracks that play more like and R&B song without the ballads.

Where they differ, however, by bending and flexing their voices in a similar way to artists like Young Thug and Smino to stretch what it means to be a rapper.  Their style is hard to define because of how much it shifts (not even in the course of the album, but oftentimes the course of a song), but they still do an incredible job getting their point across despite not fitting into a binary category.  Mirrorland sucks you in in the first two tracks and doesn’t let you go until the last one fades to black.  They jump from peppy, off the wall, tracks like UP down to conscious and depressing songs like This Side right back to bangers like Tequila (feat. T-Pain) with ease.  Earthgang is one of my favorite non-traditional rap acts and if you aren’t familiar with their work, Mirrorland is their best project to date and an excellent place to start.

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for concept albums.  Albums that play like a stream of consciousness and single in on one topic throughout, rather than a collection of singles always get me.  It feels like the artist is trying extra hard to prove their intelligence and makes the work more fun to listen to and decipher…even when they miss the mark like IDK’s new album Is He Real?  Is He Real? is meant to be a deep dive into the subject of the existence (or lack thereof) of the Christian god, and while it’s a great idea and a valiant effort, the young artist falls just short of what he was shooting for.  He clearly thinks highly of himself (and if you want to read someone who seems personally offended by his hubris read the Pitchfork review), and while I really love the idea of doing an album like this, he just seems to get distracted from the point he’s trying to make.

IDK starts off well with a fun spoken-word intro from a child and launches into verse about the contradictions he sees in organized religion, but loses that train of thought by the next song.  His argument seems to check back into the album almost sporadically rather than being the sole focus of the work.  I personally found his bars to be clever and even funny at places and I was surprised by how good his singing voice was as well, but I just wish he stayed on track a little more.  He, unfortunately, ends his thought piece on an agnostic note with a boring argument from the mind of every college freshman trying weed for the third time, which is unfortunate, but it’s still a really fun listen.

I also feel obligated to tell y’all that Post Malone dropped a new album called Hollywood’s Bleeding.  It’s a fine piece of work, but I honestly couldn’t tell you any more than that.  My key takeaways are:

  • Post Malone can make the most milk-toast bland lines sound good with his voice
  • A bunch of these songs are going to be singles
  • I couldn’t tell you one line from any of the verses

So take what you will from that.

Meme of the week

I, unfortunately, can’t look at every meme that dominates the internet every week, so if you see a meme and think it should be the meme of the week please send it to: SumnerCultureCow@gmail.com

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