Aesthetics of the week #3
Featuring: LOGIC, BILLIE EILISH, ALICE IN CHAINS AND KENNY CHESNEY
Lyric of the Week - Kenny Chesney, ‘Get Along
He said all your really given is the sunshine and your name
Chesney’s knack for storytelling is once again highlighted, as he recounts a tale of a religious man giving him some rather deep advice. The song is of course all about the mantra of getting on with those around you (spoiler alert in the title), with a very unsubtly cloaked reference to the Christian principle of ‘Love thy neighbour’. While I appreciate the message, it is easy for songs like this to come across as overly preachy and self-righteous. But that is why I love these two lines, because they add a touch of self-deprecating humour, as Chesney recalls the profound teaching that fundamentally all we have is ‘the sunshine and our name’, but then as the singer is pondering this it ironically starts to rain. Key lesson to be learnt? Apparently you do need to take an umbrella on that summer Nashville trip you’ve been planning after all. Seriously though, as you well know, over at Maximoco HQ we hate too much seriousness, but we are suckers for a good, loving message - so that’s why these lyrics were bound to be a hit with us.
Album Art of the Week - Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
Now, I’m a big fan of bright colours, and I’m not a big fan of rock music. So as I’m staring at this entirely black-and-white, murky album cover from a rock band, part of me wonders what I was thinking choosing this for Album Art of the Week. But for some reason, the image just looks awesome to me - I love the office-style cut-and-paste juxtaposition with the scenes of nature, and the man walking into the ‘eye’ of the storm (quite literally) creates a very ominous vibe. The writing in the bottom left-hand corner adds to the overall mystery, making this look like a poster for an upcoming horror movie, and certainly has a voyage into the unknown feel about it. Just lost out to ‘Performance’ by White Denim.
Title of the Week - ‘you should see me in a crown’, Billie Eilish
Inspired by the famous Moriaty line from BBC’s Sherlock, “In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king. And honey, you should see me in a crown.” This song screams confidence compacted into a sassy, pithy punchline. Also poignant because the original quote is about ‘the man’, while Billie switches this to be about herself in an empowering move. And if you’re wondering whether the standard of this blog’s spellchecking is slacking, Billie brands all her song titles without any capitals. Travis Scott did it first. Just saying.
Music Video of the Week - ‘One Day’, Logic ft. Ryan Tedder
To be honest, I started watching this with a sceptical eye. Logic already played the humanitarian card last year with his National Suicide Prevention hit single ‘1-800-273-8255'. ‘One Day’ dropped out of the blue, following a very thuggish Bobby Tarantino mixtape, and handily just in time for the VMAs. Logic performed, of course, and while it was moving it was also in danger of coming across as an attempt to jump on the anti-Trump bandwagon, and using the well-publicised border crisis to fuel another surge up the charts. But whatever your feelings about the actual track, or his VMA’s performance, the music video is undoubtedly poignant and well-constructed. It begins as expected, with a dramatisation of the separation of a family trying to cross into the USA, and then we fast forward to follow the lives of one of the children who has been separated and given a new home, as well as a boy who grows up to become a neo-Nazi. The plot line is a little convoluted at times, but the conclusion more than makes up for this. The message is one that is very relevant to our times, and you can be as mistrusting of Logic’s motives as you like, and I don’t even really like the song, but viewed as an isolated piece of art, this music video is incredibly inspiring and captures what it is trying to communicate perfectly.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Usually, if I mention the name ‘Jason Mraz’ to someone, they’ll pause for a while and adopt a quizzical expression, reaching back into the dregs of their memory to find why the name rings a bell. Then the light switches on, and they remember with a smile. He is probably most famous for his motivational hit, ‘I Won’t Give Up’, and the wonderfully playful chart-topper, ‘I’m Yours’.
Having taken a break from producing music to star in Broadway’s Waitress, you could have been forgiven for wondering Mraz would ever return to brighten up the charts with his carefree optimism. But thankfully on Know, his new album, this is exactly what he does.
From the introduction to the conclusion, Know plays like the soundtrack to that moment at school where you were finally allowed onto the big field for summer (or maybe that was just one of my countryside childhood quirks). Mraz’s contagious happiness fizzles through the listener, and - call me corny - it’s the first album I’ve listened to in a while that’s actually made me smile to myself at the singer’s innocent humour.
The beauty of Know is undoubtedly its message, which is obvious from simply looking at the tracklist - the likes of ‘Better With You’, ‘Might As Well Dance’ and ‘Love Is Still The Answer’ immediately extinguish any doubts that Mraz has become hardened by life since when he first burst onto the scene. If anything, he sounds even happier, now being married and enjoying life in the US. He admits he was tempted to go down a darker path with his music after his last album, partly as a result of the seemingly exponential amount of issues that litter the world today, saying, “I wrote a lot of frustrated, angry, even sad songs between then and now, but nothing I wanted to come forward with; nothing I wanted to sing.”
Instead he penned ‘Have It All’, the album’s lead single, inspired by a blessing he received from a Myanmar monk in 2012. It is jam-packed with just about every positive, Pinterest-spawned mantra in existence (“May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows”/“May you always lead from the beating in your chest”, and the more typical Mraz lyric, “May you get a gold star on your next test”). What I love is that you can tell he’s genuinely written the tracks himself, because they’re too off-the-wall and wholesomely ingenuous to have been manufactured by a songwriting team, as lots of modern tracks are.
It would be easy for the cheesy punchlines and unbounded joyousness of this record to come across as too much, and perhaps even sickeningly sweet. But Jason Mraz delivers them with enough cheek and playful innocence that it works, and you can’t help but dance along. A lot of motivational, message-heavy projects can entail less attention being paid to the actual melodies, and okay, perhaps Mraz’s style is a bit too dated to really breach the current Top 40. But make no mistake - the songs on Know are as catchy as ever. The buoyant ode to getting lost in the moment with love, ‘Might As Well Dance’, is a clear highlight, while the Meghan Trainor assisted ‘More Than Friends’ adds drive to the generally light-hearted strummings of the rest of the album.
The breezy hooks, the twinkling riffs and the lovable lyrics are reminiscent of peak MIKA, where people let their guard down and just enjoyed themselves amongst the bubbly pop of his falsetto anthems.
What better antidote could there be to all the sorrow and seriousness of 2018?
Yours sincerely, but not seriously,
Image by Moses Namkung on Flickr
Rough Diamond Series: Tyga, Kyoto
The first of our ‘Rough Diamond’ series, where I will be giving another chance to projects that flopped critically, and seeing if any of these supposedly ugly ducklings are actually just swans in disguise...
Earlier this year, Tyga surprised fans by dropping a singing album. He has always had a distinctive rap flow that has sustained his career for numerous years, so this was certainly a curveball to then produce an all-singing (not quite all-dancing) project.
Now, a lot of contemporary music lovers, even those whose Facebook newsfeed is a merry-go-round of Rap-Up, Complex, Genius and HipHopDX stories, won’t have even known Kyoto was released. It went very much under the radar, with Tyga not really holding the same industry presence as he did when the Young Money flagship first set sail - even though there have been signs of a resurgence with the success of his recent single with Offset, ‘Taste’.
But the backdrop to Kyoto adds significance to the release, because it was composed amid the rapper’s split from Kylie Jenner, and her quick turn-around and surprise pregnancy with Travis Scott. It has never really been the thing to make love-based or break-up albums in Hip Hop, which is what made Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak such a game-changer. Emo-Rap is now, of course, a much more widely populated sub-genre, and Juice WRLD’s recent surge into the charts has revitalised it even more. His album, Goodbye and Good Riddance has all the nihilism and soul-searching of 808s, and has propelled him into being the poster boy of this new wave of rap.
However, while most critics would scoff at the mere thought of Goodbye and Good Riddance being mentioned in the same sentence as Kyoto, I think the latter offers a lot that Juice WRLD does not. It is much easier to listen to, for one, which would be many a reviewer’s argument for why it holds less artistic value. But why does 21st Century art have to be uncomfortable? Nowadays plays and art exhibitions often seem to have one goal in mind, to take the recipient out of their comfort zone.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not too fond of feeling uncomfortable. While I appreciate painfully honest works of art that are clearly a therapeutic medium for the creator, I think these pieces are often less constructive for the viewer or listener. I listen to Goodbye and Good Riddance and feel almost guilty that I’m not suffering as badly as Juice WRLD, and if I’m in a good mood and I listen to it, it just puts a downer on the moment.
Kyoto is also filled with a lot of pain, but it is a lot less bitter and more eclectic. Tyga conveys the suffering in a much subtler, softer, less angsty manner, and personally, I find the songs a lot catchier. I could listen to any of the tracks on there purely for their beats and melodies, without having to get too involved with the anguish. It is undoubtedly introspective, and also feels as though it has been created to help the artist more than the listener. But because the rhymes feel more uncertain, and the flow is less confident than what we are used to from Tyga, the project still invites the listener’s empathy. He covers such an array of emotions that it is very difficult not to find one that you can connect with, whereas Goodbye and Good Riddance feels more like one long, dark vibe.
‘U Cry’ is undoubtedly the centrepiece, with the pained lyrics fusing magically with the delicate piano sample to create a level of exposure that places Tyga on new ground. He details the feelings of anxiety as his girl keeps partying without him, only to call him afterwards, a narrative not often portrayed in the rap world, which only adds to its poignancy. The alpa male is replaced by a vulnerable lover, and the album benefits from this.
Is Kyoto a masterpiece? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But it certainly has something to offer that has been overlooked critically. Upon the album’s release, Tyga was ridiculed for changing tack and singing, rather than sticking to his usual, flashy script of brightly coloured cars, pool parties and groupies. Kyoto is understated and underrated, proving that sometimes, less is indeed more.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Aesthetics of the week.2
LYRIC OF THE WEEK
Paranoid, Post Malone -
“Killing myself just to make me a life”
If you had to sum up the modern Western mentality, this is it. We work ourselves into the ground, ruining our health by getting so stressed about deadlines and being productive, and then we use the money we make from our job to try and get our health back. It is an illogical cycle, but one that is hard not to succumb to. So take Malone’s word of warning - yes, plan for the future, and yes, be dedicated to whatever you pursue. But remember that money isn’t everything - family, health and love is.
SONGTITLE OF THE WEEK
Love is still the answer, Jason Mraz
Ok, so clearly this week we’re all about that ‘peace and love, man’. However, I like this title not only because it’s advocating love being the most important thing in life, which it undoubtedly is, and that it is the best way to fight negativity. This is an awesome message, but not that original in today’s music - what I found most interesting is the ‘still’. It touches on how, in this world that everyone keeps telling us is the worst the human race has ever lived in, it is easy to start reciprocating the hate around us with more hate. We naturally feed off the energy other people emanate, but what Mraz is suggesting is that we still meet hate with love - even though in this day and age the temptation to do otherwise will be stronger than ever. Create your own energy.
And if you’re starting to fear that the Maximoco Review is becoming too deep, find reassurance in the fact that I nearly chose Travis Scott’s ‘ASTROTHUNDER’ instead of ‘Love is still the answer’ - for no other reason than I think ‘Astrothunder’ is a really cool word.
ALBUM COVER OF THE WEEK
Side Effects, The Chainsmokers ft. Emily Warren
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not quite sure what this polycephalic tiger is supposed to symbolise. Maybe it’s the head and heart battling against each other, maybe it’s the two lovers being one but fighting against the feeling. I don’t know, but what I do know is I love this drawing. It reminds me of those old-fashioned picture books my grandparents had passed down to my parents, where the art was all very detailed and ornate. Relevant or not, this album cover gave me a Madeleine Moment for my childhood, so this is why it’s tops my list this week.
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE WEEK
In My Feelings, Drake -
Hold on, hold on, before you criticise my choice, I know it’s not that good a song. And I know it’s only famous because of Shiggy’s dance, and Drake is exploiting this by having him in the video. BUT! As manufactured as it might be, it is still very funny. I know it can be corny at times, but I don’t think Drake’s a terrible actor, and I love that he doesn’t take himself too seriously when he tries to make a cheesy meme-fuelled song into a Romeo and Juliet style love story.
Any choices that we missed out? Which would you have gone for?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Okay, let’s get this straight.
Nicki Minaj is not just famous because she is a female rapper, or because she was the first female rapper to really take the industry by storm. She is also not just famous because of her often outrageous fashion sense, and the obvious sex appeal this promotes.
It is a discredit to suggest that these alone have propelled her to stardom - they would have made her a flash in the pan. What has ensured her longevity is her undoubted skill as an artist. She can go bar to bar with just about anyone else in the game, she has hooks that wriggle themselves into your head and don’t remove themselves in a hurry, and she has undoubted charisma.
Also, in my opinion, her verse on Kanye’s ‘Monster’ is the best rap verse of the modern era, if not of all time. Sue me.
But she also has a much greater social role to play, and one which, judging from her recent Beats 1 interview with Zane Lowe, she is very aware of. “There are songs on the album that I feel woman really need right now,” with a message of female empowerment even more relevant amidst the rise of conservatism that has paralleled the ascent of President Trump.
Perhaps the pivotal track is the one that has stirred up the most controversy, ‘Barbie Dreams’, on which Nicki hilariously lists all the rappers that want to sleep with her and why she always refuses their advances. The song ironically inverts a sample from Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Just Playing (Dreams)’, which consists of him going through all the female R&B singers he’s attracted to. Nicki toys with Drake before dismissing him for being too emotional, claims the monocular Fetty Was has his eye (get it?) on her, and calls out her ex Meek Mill for still pervading her DMs. She is tempted by Young Thug, who famously broke gender stereotypes by wearing women’s clothes on the cover of his 2017 project JEFFERY, but then jokingly raps that she was turned off when she found him stealing her dresses.
This song epitomises what we need more of in 2018 - a woman’s voice in Hip Hop, and good, light-hearted fun. Many were shocked by ‘Barbie Dreams’, thinking it to be a diss track directed towards the various rappers referenced. But this is symptomatic of the problem - artists with their constant introspection and profound musings can end up taking themselves too seriously (rather like I do as a philosophy student, mind you), and here Nicki provides some refreshing relief from this.
For too long in the past women who like Hip Hop have had to endure the constant belittling, objectifying and macho domineering that underlies most of the songs atop the genre, which sound as though they are exclusively directed towards a male audience, even if this is not the intention. Nicki Minaj is a role model, someone who embodies the confidence, fearlessness and self-belief that regular Hip Hop can often detract from.
On her new album, Queen, she fires innumerable warning shots at her ex, but it comes across as strong rather than bitter, resurgent rather than regretful. The focus is very much on her, and her life, not on those who haven’t been able to keep up with her. And she has fun doing it, with the project peppered with entertaining, tongue-in-cheek punchlines, whilst never losing sight of the album’s defiant cri-de-coeur - "Who the f*** you thought you was, tryna stunt on Nick?”
In the strategic chess-board of Hip Hop, the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West still frantically vie for the throne, but too long have the eyes been trained on the King.
For everyone knows the Queen is the most important player.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Which is more common out of the following two situations:
Do some people take drugs to lift them out of a depressed or anxious state?
Or do drugs in fact often cause these depressed and anxious states?
This chicken-or-the-egg dilemma is the question that is perhaps more relevant now than ever. Despite the increasing amount of information detailing the damage drugs can do to the human body, hard drugs are still a central muse for modern music, particularly Hip Hop.
The Kid Cudi propelled movement into melodic Hip Hop and Emo-Rap was accompanied not only by a heightened sense of vulnerability coming across in songs, but also a strong theme of dependance on the likes of Marijuana, Cocaine, and now more commonly Lean and Xanax. There’s even a rapper now called Lil Xan. I mean, seriously?
Ever since Lil Peep’s well-publicised death from a Xanax-based overdose, many expected drug references to take a backseat in the music world. Yet this has clearly not been the case - with Drake probably being the only major recording artist in the current Hip Hop pantheon not to be looking through whichever online rhyme dictionary rappers use nowadays to find words like panax, hand-axe and Japan Wax.
But should we be worried? It is no secret that members of this younger generation idolise their music stars more intensely than ever, due to the accessibility and personality social media offers to fans. Thus, when they hear Post Malone telling them that he pops pills like a rockstar, many will be moved to try and mimic their role model. There is the argument that this is merely the fault of the listener, for as Malone himself has said, he is not actively telling people that ‘You should go and pop pills’, he is just documenting a lifestyle - that may or may not be autobiographical - and does not intend for it to be taken too seriously.
Future, who probably holds the record for most drug references in a single career, adopts a similar but interesting line of argument. He admits that he does not actually take that many drugs, and he raps about them so often because he knows a lot of people do live that kind of life. Equally, either in an uber-artistic move or simply a consumer-broadening tactic, he points out that you can have it either way with his music, it can be enjoyed by people who can empathise with what he is saying, or sober people can listen to his hazy croons and feel as though they are drugged-up, without having taken anything.
This is linked to the stance that most of this generation seem to adopt, the ‘slippery slope’ argument, that if we stop artists talking about drugs then we are censoring, and censoring is one step towards restricting art altogether and saying you can’t sing about the colour red because the current government dislikes it and would rather everyone sings about blue instead.
Personally, I understand this perspective, but I feel it is a biased one. Usually the people that begin asking the questions I have asked come from the starting-point of enjoying music that does reference an ubiquitous amount of drugs, but then they hear their conscience piping up and eventually drowning out the heavy baselines and twinkling hi-hats. I myself am a big fan of Future, Post Malone, Travis Scott and the Migos - all of whom frequently reference drug use. So I, of course, am inclined to follow the argument from censorship, or perhaps Post Malone’s point about poetic license and lyrics not being intended to be taken literally.
But either way, there is a part of me left dissatisfied - whether it is my conscience, or my audial desires. Should art be allowed to evade the restrictive clutches of morality? Or should such widely consumed and incredibly influential artforms, such as music, be censored?
It seems there is never going to be a solution that will both maintain artistic freedom whilst keeping a strict moral compass. Art places a huge responsibility on the listener, and despite what theatre critics, art curators and those pesky music bloggers (ugh, hate those guys…oh wait) will have you believe, the value of anything that falls under ‘the arts’ is completely subjective. This is the beauty of art, and it is why you can meet one person who is a diehard Metalhead, and another that abhors anything remotely Rocky but is utterly obsessed with K-Pop. There is no objective ‘good art’, there is just art that perhaps more people are fond of than others, but this doesn’t make less popular art any less good. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Okay…but how does this link to drugs exactly? Well it seems that drug references are just a part of Hip Hop, and it is the listener’s duty to enjoy this kind of art for what it is - art, and art doesn’t need to have some kind of hidden message all the time. Just because Future raps about pouring Lean 24/7, it doesn’t mean he thinks you should do the same. He might just be trying to convey a melancholic mood more vividly through a depicted dependence on drugs. The other key thing to remember, in my opinion, is that it is easy to think that because music generally takes a narrative, first-person format, it means it is always autobiographical. This is simply not the case, and numerous popular artists have their songs written for them, so it is obviously not about their own lives.
Art is designed to make you feel something, to move you in any kind of way. To adapt Charles R. Swindoll’s old adage, or maxim…
’Art is 10% the actual song, painting, poem, play, etc., and 90% how you react to it.’
What do you think? Do you agree?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Travis Scott’s third studio album, Astroworld, had all the odds stacked against it. Travis’ fans had been anticipating this release for two years, with the constant speculation as to when it would drop only ever resulting in disappointment - until now.
However, while there was obviously immense excitement at there finally being a release date, the prolonged hype meant it was always going to be virtually impossible to meet fans’ expectations. On the other side of the fence were Scott’s critics, who have maintained since day one that he offers nothing more than an unimaginative combination of his idols - Kid Cudi and Kanye West. His relationship with Kylie Jenner has also opened him up to sceptics who will view any success the album enjoys as purely a result of this limelight.
But that’s enough negative energy for one post. I admit I’m a massive Travis Scott fan, but I also admit I was nervous as to whether Astroworld would match its promise. ‘Watch’, the lead single, was okay, but it wasn’t of the calibre of Scott’s main Rodeo singles, ‘3500’ and ‘Antidote’, nor was it close to Birds in the Trap Sing Mcknight’s ‘Pick Up the Phone’. Furthermore, I have written previously of my reservations about long tracklists, and Astroworld reads 17 songs long.
My fears, however, were proven to be groundless. The album rocks, to a level that is epitomised by its dramatic title. ‘Stargazing’, the opener, ensures Scott hits the ground running, with his pitched vocals reminding the listener of his untouchable mercuriality. This was the summer that left room for someone to step forward and claim the Hip Hop crown, with all the heavyweights producing fine projects, but nothing spectacular. On Astroworld, Scott takes aim at the pantheon, and he warns anyone who tries to halt his mission to either step aside or be blasted out of the way by his thunderous, Auto-Tuned roar.
He has always been a master of aesthetics, composing Rodeo with an unwavering loyalty to the theme, making it sound like a sleepy desert quest, with the mood meandering from intensely hot to uncomfortably cold and back again. Birds in the Trap played like a beast rattling furiously against a metal cage, with anarchy and dejection flaring up in equal measure. Astroworld is no less of an enthralling journey, with the cheery, fairground-esque instrumentals providing an eerie backdrop to Scott’s dark storytelling. The album is named after the theme park that was torn down in the artist’s home of Houston, and he’d outlined previously his goal to make the project sound exactly how it felt to have that emblem of youth and fun torn away from the heart of the city.
Boy does he stay true to his word. There is the spinning, nauseating tea-cups of ‘NC-17’; the snaking, rip-roaring coaster of ‘Astrothunder’; the stomach-somersaulting drop of ‘Who? What!’; and the psychedelic yet murky fun-house that is ‘Houstonfornication’.
The lyrics are undoubtedly his most personal yet, and show that Scott has worked hard to bring the content of his songs up to equal their unquestionable sonic quality. His newborn son and Kylie feature prominently throughout, with Travis offering us some tenderness to balance out the power posing on tracks like ‘Stargazing’ (“I was always high up on the lean/Then this girl came here to save my life”), ‘Stop Trying to Be God’ (“You can’t win a trophy or a plaque off her/But never turn your back on her”) and the concluding ‘Coffee Bean’ (“I know they told you I’d be bad for you/Don’t worry I’ll be back for you”). He interpolates a depth that we haven’t seen previously, addressing issues of sexism on ‘Skeleton’ (“If you take your girl out, do you expect sex?”) and interpolates a metaphor for the fickleness of fame on the aforementioned ‘Stop Trying to Be God’ (“The signal’s far from what you can be/‘Cause air traffic controls the landing”).
But the rapper doesn’t have such a strong following amongst the young generation because of his lyrics - it’s because of his anthems. Travis Scott cannot feature on other artists’ songs without his trademark ‘It’s lit!’ and ‘Straight up!’ ad-libs bringing aftershocks to each seismic hook and verse. On his own turf, on his planet, Astroworld, he expects his guests to bring just as much verve, and they generally do not disappoint. Drake churns out yet another classic refrain on ‘Sicko Mode’, while the slower ‘Stop Trying to Be God’ boasts Stevie Wonder playing the harmonica. The Migos of course pop up, while Frank Ocean and Swae Lee offer soothing melodies to soften the blow of Travis’ fiery bars. The Weeknd, however, undoubtedly steals the show, with his angelic but eerie vocals contributing to the hazy nightmares of ‘Skeletons’ and ‘Wake Up’. Despite the success of Migos member Quavo’s joint project with Scott, released late last year, you can’t help but think that The Weeknd would have been a far better suited collaborator.
The feeling of having something to prove seems to be the permanent mentality of an artist, but as cliche as it may sound, Travis Scott undoubtedly proves his point on Astroworld. Yes, some critics will lazily claim that he was born great, due to having met Kanye West so early on in his career. And yes, some will look with envious eyes and argue that he has had greatness thrust upon him, due to him having had a child with such a high-profile celebrity.
But don’t get it mixed up. On Astroworld, Travis Scott achieves greatness.
So my advice for listening to his latest project? As he wrote in the album’s accompanying Apple Music note - ‘Just buckle up’, and enjoy the ride.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?