Recent Release Roundup: Notable artists refresh sound

The Miscellany News.

Throughout this past month, numerous established artists have released albums aimed at advancing or reinventing their sound. In this “Recent Release Roundup,” I would like to cover three albums by musicians who expanded their sonic boundaries and pushed into new musical frontiers: “SCARING THE HOES” by JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown, “10,000 gecs” by 100 gecs and “UGLY” by slowthai.

“SCARING THE HOES” is a collaborative album by JPEGMAFIA (who will be performing at the Vassar ViCE Music Fest!) and Danny Brown, two of the biggest names in alternative hip-hop over the past couple of years. Each brings a unique set of talents to the table in this project, creating a truly collaborative effort that goes beyond the style of their previous releases. JPEG’s distinct, glitchy production forms the noisy background of all of the tracks, accompanied by his rapping and Brown’s unique, nasally vocals. The density of these instrumentals can become briefly overwhelming; songs veer into unpredictable directions and often operate outside the standard verse-chorus form. For instance, “Jack Harlow Combo Meal” begins with a slow-tempo jazz piano sample before a breakbeat-like drum snare enters, leading to an unexpected yet satisfying balance between prettiness and noisiness. Across the tracklist, the listener is exposed to great synth work, combined with less-expected timbres like organ, saxophone and brass; for instance, “Burfict!” employs trumpets in a perfectly triumphant manner. Songs like “Steppa Pig,” “God Loves You” and “Where Ya Get Ya Coke From” all use deafening bass alongside beautiful vocal samples, creating dense beats that are topped by in-your-face rapping. “Lean Beef Patty” and “Fentanyl Tester” emphasize skittering percussion and a more electronic sound, which is then contrasted by the highly melodic “Orange Juice Jones” and its more relaxed tone. However, even in these calmer moments, JPEG and Brown refuse to drop in intensity, delivering fast-paced bars with full energy and emotion. My only minor complaint is that Brown’s vocals often get drowned out in the mix, and it feels like the instrumental chaos can override his ability to shine on the microphone (“Lean Beef Patty” comes to mind as one instance of this). As a result, the album feels much closer to a JPEG solo album than one birthed from both his and Brown’s styles. Regardless, the project is another step forward for JPEG’s rapping and production, experimenting with new ideas to help keep his eclectic sound ever-fresh. Brown does a great job performing on beats that differ from his usual style, contributing greatly to a collaboration that would have left many other rappers sounding out of place. After following each of these artists for years, I can safely say that “SCARING THE HOES” is one of the best releases from either of the two, and a must-listen for anyone interested in current hip-hop.

In similarly chaotic fashion, “10,000 gecs” begins with a sample of the THX sound effect, setting the tone for the absurdity to come. The opening track, “Dumbest Girl Alive,” employs an electric guitar riff before the bass guitar and drums kick in, marking a divergence from the duo’s previously electronic, hyperpop sound. Although these prior stylings are incorporated throughout the album, 100 gecs aim to enhance their past endeavors with a new flavor: guitar-based rock. The ensuing results are varied. The highly auto-tuned vocals on “Dumbest Girl Alive” fail to compliment its instrumentation, yet “Hollywood Baby” follows the same formula while yielding great results, resulting in a catchy, playful song with a powerful vocal performance. “757” and “mememe” each fall back on 100 gecs’ past sound with more reliable impact, forming the clear top three in the tracklist alongside “Hollywood Baby.” ”Billy Knows Jamie” calls back to the early-2000s rapped nu-metal of Limp Bizkit, accompanied by turntable scratching and powerful guitars. However, I found the track too self-aware and referential, failing to deliver its energy in a satisfying or refreshing manner. “One Million Dollars” and “The Most Wanted Person in the United States” each come and go without getting me on board; however, they still manage to do more for me than the goofier style of “Frog On the Floor,” which doesn’t land—comedically or musically. “10,000 gecs” is a grab-bag of experiments that sees the group working in a new area with mixed results. When the songs land, however, you will be rewarded with a fun, energetic experience unlike any other.

Slowthai’s “UGLY” is a refreshing release for the UK-born rapper, seeing him turn his focus on post-punk as a cathartic way to vent his struggles. Although his 2021 album “TYRON” came with a handful of solid hip-hop tracks, the album left the listener with something to desire in terms of its completeness, lacking an original flavor that stands out from the crowd. “UGLY” improves upon this aspect while also marking the beginning of a new, punkier style for slowthai, communicating a wide range of emotion across its twelve tracks while still incorporating rap throughout the project. “Yum” opens the album with references to slowthai’s therapy sessions and his struggles with substance abuse, accompanying these lyrics with deep breathing and thumping synths. “Wotz Funny” highlights the simple yet driven percussion utilized throughout the album, pushing songs forward as slowthai speaks to his sources of anger and self-destruction. The use of this instrumentation continues throughout the album, incorporating the energy of punk with a variety of vocal styles. “Sooner” straddles the line between hip-hop and singing, whereas “Falling” makes use of pained yells, while still other tracks like “Happy” showcase his full rapping ability. I was pleasantly surprised by slowthai’s singing across the record, containing multiple poignant performances such as on “Falling.” The title track is my favorite, using heavier, hazy guitars and mid-tempo drums to bolster Slowthai’s rapping. Synths and multiple vocal tracks enter and add to the density of the song, rounded off by a simple yet effective chorus that spells out U-G-L-Y repeatedly. Fans of either post-punk or hip-hop will find something to appreciate in Slowthai’s work, leading to a powerful combination that blends each genre seamlessly.

Each of the three albums covered here showcase musicians’ dynamic ability to refresh their sound and output. However, perhaps listeners ought to be less surprised by this growth; when an audience places an artist into a box musically, the demand for one style can pressure musicians to fall back onto reliable yet stale ideas. As listeners, we will be rewarded with a greater variety of high quality music if we can remain open to our favorite artists changing up their formulas, opening our ears to refreshing and ambitious possibilities.

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