Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
It’s hard to figure out what he stands for or who he is besides a party boy who in this climate and thanks to his bros (Kendrick, Paak, etc) summons more interesting beats and backdrops than he would’ve in, say, 2006; it’s like Hillary running as a liberal in 2016. I liked enough of Oxymoron to recommend it, though, and “Man of the Year” was one of my favorite singles of 2014. This one is just as uneven. Rumination is his ruin; he’s best when his truculent growl conveys a rage he can’t put into memorable words, or when the memory of recent rage complements beats as good as Sounwave’s (e.g. “Ride Out” with Vince Staples). Sometimes, as in “Whatever You Want” or “Overtime,” the latter with Miguel singing the most lobotomized hook of his career, Q’s rage softens into label-approved cynicism. Sometimes he does write memorable words, as in “John Muir,” where young Q is bellin’ through the mothafuckin’ street avoiding the cops and gang injunctions and sick as flu blue Chucks; and in Tae Beast’s “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane,” a two-part narrative in which Q and top of his game Jadakiss weave The Five Heartbeats and the Hoover Crips into a cold-eyed tale about waking up in Reagan’s Morning in America. It’s the best thing Q’s ever recorded.
Shura – Nothing’s Real
Programming her own synths and playing her own guitar, Aleksandra Lilah Yakunina-Dento writes steady-pulsed synth pop that listeners could confuse for Tegan & Sara (Greg Kurstin contributed production to both albums) or Chvrches. The clipped, worried “I’m On Fire” guitars and transparent shimmer of the voices in “What’s It Gonna Be?” conjure a summer of anxiety, of wondering who’s checking out whom. By contrast the title track, as light as foam on cappuccino, bops on its ephemerality; as its video suggests, it’s an ’80s in which the nerds and gay girls and boys win. Nothing’s real, Shura sighs over a French disco groove. The most far out track, “White Light,” is an impressive nine-minute collage of Roland TR-808, faint street noise, and luxuriant synthetic atmospherics, created by Shura and frequent collaborator Joel Pott. A dutiful recreation of a decade’s received memories scored to the bleat of Fairlight brass, Nothing’s Real resonates about as long as it takes to read old letters, smell a cologne that conjures recollections in agitation, or smell an old jacket collar.