Track Reviews: Frank Ocean, Future Islands, Lil Herb, Marina & The Diamonds, St. Vincent

Frank Ocean – “Memrise”

Without saying a word, Frank Ocean released “Memrise”, his first single in almost two years. Frank Ocean has remained relatively quiet musically ever since he released his first full-length album, Channel Orange, but has appeared in features for Jay-Z, John Mayer, Tyler, The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, and Beyoncé since then.

In his new track, Frank Ocean sings about a lover, someone who has offered him an intimacy that he’ll never forget. The feels are hella real with this short track that barely spans two minutes. Frank aches to see this lover again, and he’s memorized every aspect of them; the directions to their place, the way this person looks (both naked and not), and how much he enjoys their personality and just being with them. The song is mellow to say the least, and the instrumentals makes you feel like you’re floating in a warm air of romance and blissful fantasy. Frank also switches between a style of spoken word and soft singing that’s really tantalizing. I think if this is any indicator of what’s to come, fans surely won’t be disappointed. – Sayem Khan

Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (BADBADNOTGOOD reinterpretation)

BADBADNOTGOOD, the rising Toronto jazz band, reimagines Future Islands’ summer classic, “Seasons (Waiting On You).” BADBADNOTGOOD deconstructs what makes the original track a hit by keeping lead singer Samuel T. Herring’s emotional vocals while stripping down the synths to its bare essentials. The verse is bare, consisting of only drums, a few guitar licks with a reverb effect and scarce piano chords. The sparseness of the verse cools down the vibe of the original in a very jazzy way. The chorus throws everything together with a surf-rock, 1950s French pop sound to it with a muted electric organ that contains the excitement. What makes the track exciting is how contained and luscious the chorus sounds, even though you can tell that the song wants to explode with feeling. The original’s chorus bursts out in energy, whereas BADBADNOTGOOD purposefully chose not to allow that. It’s an interesting choice by the jazz band, and that tension is what makes BADBADNOTGOOD’s interpretation fantastic. – Angelo Mateo

Lil Herb – “Knucklehead” (ft. Earl Sweatshirt)

“Knucklehead” is a collaboration between two considerably young rappers: in one corner, from Los Angeles, we have Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt. And on the other, from Chicago, we have drill rapper Lil Herb. Earl Sweatshirt produces the easy-going piano-driven beat, and as a consequence, the track sounds more Earl than Herb. The lyrics are ripped from the “diaries of a knucklehead.” Herb and Earl trade introspective verses about juvenile delinquency. Lil Herb strays from his typically confrontational approach for a more reflective one, proving his versatility as a rapper. Earl Sweatshirt’s lyrics are poignant as always: “Tight grip on the shit that I’m drownin’ in / Can’t step in my mama’s crib without counselin'”.

It’s more mellow than what we usually get from either rapper, but “Knucklehead” relies on Earl and Herb’s youthful energy – Earl is 20, Herb 19. Despite their youth, Earl is a known quantity and Lil Herb is on his way to the top, having already collaborated with Nicki Minaj, Common, and Chance the Rapper. It also shows that these young rappers are still learning, with Earl branching into beatmaking, and Herb branching out of drill – all bets are off on where they’ll go next. – James Li

Marina and the Diamonds – “Happy”

Marina and the Diamonds is back (again) with the second single off her 2015 album FROOT and I’m falling in love with her more and more with each replay. The first single was the up-tempo title track, which marked a change of direction from her 2012 album, Electra Heart. But we were all expecting that. And I was not expecting this. It’s the complete opposite of “Froot” and took me completely by surprise when I first clicked play. The song is so raw and simple. The main focus is mostly Diamandis’ talented voice effortlessly maneuvering through all the high and low notes. When her voice is accompanied by the backing vocals, they only gently add to the song’s haunting aura. Although the song’s first half has lines like “So now you know, you know it all, that I’ve been desperately alone”, the song actually ends on an uplifting note, with Diamandis soulfully singing, “Finally, I have found a way to be happy.”

The lyrics can get just a tiny little bit cheesy, but I think it is incredible and a great second single to show just how diverse and different FROOT is going to be. All I know is I’m counting down the days until April 2015 and you should be too. – Yasmine El Sanyoura

St. Vincent – “Pieta” / “Sparrow”

Recorded in the same sessions as her 2014 release of St. Vincent, but didn’t quite make it to the final product, Annie Clark (under the stage name St. Vincent) has released the tracks “Pieta” and “Sparrow” for Record Store Day’s Black Friday event. Much like her 2012 RSD release of “Grot” and “Krokodil”, Annie Clark reveals a darker side.

First of all, the packaging on this bad boy is aesthetically pleasing, as to be expected from any St. Vincent record. At first glance, it looks plain, but one you remove the royal blue cover you expose a turquoise inner holding for a pink record. I get it, this sounds incredibly tacky, but it’s actually quite beautiful as you can see here. The pastel and bright colors gave me the impression that the songs itself would be a lighter addition to St. Vincent’s repertoire. However, these tracks are some her darkest with her embrace of religious imagery.

Side A contains the song “Pieta” a song that, lyrically, is the most complex of musical icebergs – being simplistic at face value, but revealing endless references and double meanings. The first begins with the reference of the Pieta which itself is a sculpture by Michelangelo that depicts Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion. St. Vincent uses the imagery of the Pieta to describe a baptism at a Holiday Inn. Then the song gets progressively darker. She sings, “You are Leviathan, my child. You are Leviathan inside.” Your interpretation of a Leviathan, whether biblical or a Hobbesian, can come to a mutual consensus that this creature represents all that is bad. The darkest aspect of this song lies in the questioning or whether or not this song is a personal story. Was she the one baptized? Is she the Leviathan? Is this all too literal? Bringing forth numerous questions of meaning, Clark has me begging for answers.

Side B contains “Sparrow”, a song that is a bit more of a familiar tune. Her abrasive instrumental and her angelic voice in “Sparrow” shows she owns her craft of contrasts. A song that is less shocking than “Pieta”, she continues her theme of religious imagery on a lighter note singing about birds and not a satanic creature.

St. Vincent proves to us that she’s not just a guitar goddess, but a well-rounded musician who encompasses multiple dimensions of musical interests. This RSD single has proved to me once again that Annie Clark can really do no wrong. – Ayla Shiblaq

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