500 Word Review: Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.”

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“DAMN.” was not made for the layman. There aren’t as many straight jams compared to “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” and the tracks that do qualify as such aren’t as instantly memorable as “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and its kind. However, this does not lessen the greatness of this album; it just takes time to appreciate. Unlike most popular music, this record focuses on its role as art first, and entertainment second. Unfortunately, its artistic themes take work to understand. Kendrick should not expect the average listener to do a close reading analysis of his lyrics to fully enjoy his music, but “DAMN.’s” popularity shows he can do just that.

Kendrick is still a superb lyricist unrivaled in skill, and so his album’s concepts are explored seamlessly. It discusses the apparent discrimination, or even damnation, towards Black Americans, and a list of emotions and their relationship to the traits of wickedness and weakness. He relates the symbolic curse towards African Americans to the biblical smiting of the Israelites for betraying God. The blindness of white people and the inability of blacks to return from wickedness to weakness are his proposed explanations of the continued plight of Black Americans’ treatment and prejudice by other Americans of different racial backgrounds. In “BLOOD.” he calls attention to the failure of whites to recognize the challenges African Americans face, sampling a shameful FOX news report, and symbolizes this ignorance with a blind woman in his narrative. “DNA.” illuminates the difficulty of abandoning wickedness by simply being being born black, born into what he describes as a “sinful culture”. The power of vicious cycles is further explored in “LUST.”. Specifically, Kendrick argues that people resent change and lust for routine. Even in the face of sudden external changes like the election of Trump, lives on an individual level hardly change, hence the tragedy of the African American struggle. Kendrick stays away from the high levels of braggadocio, common in rap, apart from its satirical use in songs like “HUMBLE.” He balances the volume of such songs depicting wickedness with an equal number dissecting his own weaknesses. The album closes out with “DUCKWORTH.”, which completely illuminates Kendrick’s brilliant ideas. His rapping skill is just as impressive as his detailed concepts. Simply put, he may be the best rapper alive and the album reflects that; there isn’t need to deliberate further.

“DAMN.” has a different style than Kendrick’s previous work. The production is simpler, cleaner, and easier to appreciate than the volume of activity in TPAB. There are trap and pop influences, like the beat in “DNA.”, and multiple featured singers, but they are in good taste. One of my few complaints about the album is regarding its sampling. All the samples are very cool, but are misused in a few places. In “DUCKWORTH.”, the first syllable of the word “darling” is sampled and loudly repeated on the upbeat, competing with Kendrick’s rapping. It is jarring and confusing as to why it was included. Apart from this flaw, and a couple of repetitive hooks like the one in “HUMBLE.”, this album is difficult to criticize. Overall it is an exceptional and original work of art with significant ideas.

 

Score: 8.5/10

 

Album Review by Zachary Norton, May 2017

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Breaking News: Of Mice and Men Release New Single and Perform Live For the First Time Since Austin Carlile’s Departure

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In case you missed it, in the last few days of 2016 iconic frontman, Austin Carlile, of the successful metalcore act, Of Mice & Men, departed the group due to ongoing medical concerns that prevented him from being a full time member of the band.  The shocking news that the beloved singer would be leaving behind the group he started quickly spread across the metalcore community.  We covered the story here at Erik’s Album Reviews, and if you haven’t had a chance to read our post about it, you can do so now!

https://eriksalbumreviews.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/breaking-news-austin-carlile-leaves-of-mice-and-men/

Shortly after this departure of Carlile, the band was bombarded with questions about how they would continue, and if they would at all.  For those who don’t remember, there was a short period in time, between 2010 and 2011, when Austin Carlile was also not apart of the group and Jerry Roush (Sky Eats Airplane and Glass Cloud) was the main vocalist of the band.  This Roush fronted OM&M only released one cover track of “Blame It”, originally recorded by Jamie Foxx, however it still stood as proof that the group can continue their successes without Carlile as a member of the band.

So, because of this, Of Mice & Men announced early this year that they would continue on as a band and still proceed to write new music.  What is most interesting, however, is that the group decided not to hire a new vocalist and instead promote Aaron Pauley, who previously played bass and sung “clean” vocals for the band, to the frontman, who would perform all vocals while playing bass.  This conversion to a four piece was very interesting to say the least, and despite not following the band as attentively as I used to years ago, I was extremely intrigued to see how the band would do with this new structure.

After a long wait, on April 23rd, with the help of Rise Records, Of Mice & Men released their latest single, “Unbreakable”, featuring the new setup to their lineup.  To be completely honest, this is the first Of Mice & Men track I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in years.  It sounds a lot like the material heard on “Restoring Force”, yet there is a slightly more aggressive and heavier influence heard in this track that was absent, for the most part, on the more recent material.  I’m also shocked at how well Pauley has been handling the harsh vocals for Of Mice & Men on this track.  Not only is his delivery similar to that of Austin Carlile, but I wasn’t even aware that he was capable of this performance, as his harsh vocals for his previous band, Jamie’s Elsewhere, aren’t exactly proficient to say the least.  The lyricism definitely is not stunning, but I can’t remember a time in Of Mice & Men’s history where their lyricism was stellar, so this aspect really does not hurt the band at all.

After hearing the new track I was pleasantly surprised, however, the question of would their live performance live up to such high standards was something I was dying to find an answer to.  Of Mice & Men have been known to put on intense shows that not only are entertaining, but feature a lot of movement and fan interaction, especially since Carlile, who was just a vocalist, was able to move freely across the stage/venue and was absolutely worshipped by fans, allowing his performance to be flawless through the eyes of Of Mice & Men fans.  Because of this, I was uncertain as to how the band would be able to maintain this level of adrenaline and excitement at their shows.  Luckily, one of Of Mice & Men’s first performances without Austin Carlile took place, on April 22nd, the day before the “Unbreakable” music video was released and live footage from fans almost instantly emerged on Youtube.  One of the first Carlile-less appearances from the band occurred at the outdoor festival, Las Rageous, which as you can imagine, takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The two tracks I saw performed live, through these live videos, were “Bones Exposed” and “The Depths”, which are two high energy, fan favorite songs that would serve as good examples as to whether or not the band can still be entertaining live.  After watching both videos, even though there was clearly a lack of movement and fan interaction, I can conclude that the performance, especially when evaluating Aaron Pauley and Alan Ashby’s vocal deliveries, was nearly perfect and the intensity and high energy aspects of Of Mice and Men’s live performance were still very prominent, despite not having a vocalist who is free to move around.  Unfortunately, the Las Rageous crowd was pretty dull, but the band themselves were very entertaining.

The new single, “Unbreakable”, and both live videos I watched are attached below.  Check them out and let us know what you think of them and this new era of Of Mice & Men.  We’ll keep you up to date on any updates about OM&M, so stay tuned for more metalcore content and other extreme music content due out very soon!

 

“Unbreakable”:

“Bones Exposed (live)”:

“The Depths (live)”: