Guest post by David Dawson
Music always seems to have been an evolving art from, from changing genres, instruments, styles and finally technologies. In 1948 vinyl records were first being used and they stuck around for a long time, but looking at the last 20 years we have moved from tape through to CDs and onto streaming via various fads and fashions in between. Streaming has possibly been the biggest advancement out of all of the previous and has changed the way we consume music entirely. From holding a physical item containing a finite number of songs to having within our devices an unlimited access to just about any music we could think of has proved invaluable to most music lovers. Naturally in a flippant world these technologies all went from hero to zero, state of the art to charity shop, so it is hard to firmly believe that streaming is going to be here forever. The question is though what could come next? I find it hard to see an advancement as big or as different as the CD or tape was for the day considering we already have just about everything, but to be honest I doubt someone from a vinyl era was picturing an iPod touch complete with doodle jump and Justin Biebers debut album. One thing is for sure though, with Sony announcing a 21% rise in streaming revenue figures last year, we are now more engaged with digital music than ever before.
With this rise, there has naturally been a decline in our more physical engagement with music, even as recent as the CD, which arguably is still fairly prominent. The market for CDs these days now seems to be nothing more than a steep cliff edge with a strict one-way system, and it is fairly plain to see why. I used to purchase CDs regularly for various reasons, all the way from knowing and enjoying the album, to simply liking the cover art. This eventually moved on to an ideal of only purchasing CDs from my favourite artists or any particular album that strikes a chord. Honestly, throwing my mind back now I can't remember the last time I even found myself in the CD section of a supermarket, let alone in a music shop or, god forbid, actually buying music. The issues in this modern world with CDs are the time, money and effort for the consumer. Firstly, there is a certain risk involved with buying a CD. This may sound strange but I guarantee most of us have been stung before, when an artist you love releases a new album or there is a particular song you enjoy on the radio, as consumers we more often than not take a 10-15 pound bet with ourselves that the rest of the album is going to live up to all of our expectations. Buying a CD on the promise of one or two songs has always been a dangerous game but was often the only choice beside dodgy covers on a stone age version of YouTube. Whilst there were occasions that albums did live up to their name, there were often occasions where they did not and we were lumbered with a constant reminder of the money we had wasted sat on our shelves. There is simply no need to take this risk in the streaming market, we have a choice, we either add the one or two songs we do enjoy to a playlist or we binge the album, and if it fails, no harm done, just an hour or so wasted. When the option of access to any music you want at any time is available, why would anyone take the time to go and purchase CDs, that have a finite number of songs, a finite amount of access and take more than a few taps to get hold of, or at least a day for delivery. Everyone wants to have everything all the time now and to be honest streaming does offer that, can you imagine carrying around the number of CDs to cover every album on Spotify or iTunes?
The move to a digital world of music strays further than streaming as it seems to have consumed all stages of the music process. When we think to how songs used to come into existence, we romanticise about times gone by of John Lennon and Paul McCartney strumming acoustic guitars and dreaming up riffs, followed by the whole gang coming together to recording them before they were pressed and sent to the world. Overall, a pretty lengthy process from start to finish involving many hours and many people. This seems miles away now when we think about producers who digitally write in catchy riffs or instrumentation on their own laptop before recording a vocal on top, all of which can be done in their own homes. Then the simple process of uploading the song to any and every platform before sharing it around on social media. To be honest, for me this is a benefit, anyone who has a passion for music can access the technology to write, record and distribute their own projects without being dictated by record labels or begging for some financial backing to get a song recorded and pressed. How many more people get to live their dreams writing and sharing their music, even as just a hobby, as a result of these developments?
The flip side of this is that instrumentalist musicians like myself are finding ourselves more and more obsolete. School funding for music is constantly undergoing cuts and I would not be surprised to see it demoted to simply an extra-curricular activity within the next ten years, if not sooner. Therefore the number of kids picking up instruments and developing musical talents is no doubt going to decrease, but in a world where a number one hit can be dreamed up on a laptop and music can be accessed anywhere, anytime, is instrumental performance really the way going forward or a simple nod back to the past?
Even live music is too paving way for the digital era; gone are the days of a drummer, bass, guitar and lead singer and in are the days of pyrotechnics, staging and a laptop. To be honest, this is often due to the music itself being much more production and technology based from the very start and including sounds not always possible to replicate on instruments. However, it does seem underwhelming that full bands and big live set ups have now been replaced with an extension lead and a computer. Live shows now seem to be much more reliant on tightly choreographed routines, quick changes and lighting to make the experience more of a show or spectacle, but does this take away from the music? Again, this is something that is easy to romanticise about, dreaming of times gone by of live instruments plugged into monstrous amplifiers, but to be honest for me a live concert has always been more about the experience, the feeling you get for an artist when you've seen them live, the atmosphere of a crowd all singing the same lyrics, and whether the music is performed digitally or not, nothing can take away the physicality of that. This for me is the key, and what reassures me that digital age or not, music is safe. Whether produced by a DJ on a MacBook or a pianist on a Steinway, that unfathomable feeling we all get singing along to our favourite tune with our favourite artist, sharing the magical moment with thousands of like-minded fans. Having this experience as a performer I can safely say the high is second to none, engaging with an audience and the fulfilled feeling of entertaining is truly breath-taking. Who cares that we can access infinite music in our pockets? We all know it's not the same. That's why artists still tour, that's why millions of us flock to festivals and that's why hundreds of shows sell out every year.
It is always easier to look back with rose coloured spectacles and thoughts of 'what if' than to look forwards, and I am as guilty of this as anyone else, but I must admit I couldn't live without streaming, it makes music so easy and I now have the opportunity to access more artists, more genres and more songs than ever, and to be honest, that for me is a huge positive. Furthermore, whilst it is easy for me to be cynical about live music being more about laptops and backing tracks and reminisce about days gone by, this is more due to music in general being more reliant on technology then is used to be, and I don't have a problem with this either. For me good music is good music whether produced on a laptop or recorded part by part with a full orchestra, or sometimes a combination of the two. So, to the original question, is the physical world of music dead, and, are we now completely digital? I think the answer is no, with a fashion of retro and vintage there will always be some nostalgia in us that looks at vinyl as some superior art form from the good old days, and one day CDs may be viewed like this too. Furthermore, the unexplainable feeling we get when taking in live music that continues to encourage people to spend all their savings on expensive tickets really underlines that human element that still exists, what is there more personal than a lyricist singing to thousands about their latest love and suffering, pains and pleasures? Nothing, is the answer. The fact that despite being stuck inside with access to as much music as we please, streaming figures are actually down and we are all staring at our now redundant tickets with sad puppy dog eyes just shows how much we still crave the human aspect of music. In a world of change the future is always scary and it's our nature to cling to fond memories of the past, and music always makes up a big part of this. As long as that remains the same, I don't think the physical age of music will ever die. The digital age is in the driving seat for now though, and to be honest, I'm excited to see where it takes us.
Guest Post by David Dawson
Joyner Lucas shows again why he is considered one of the best in the game with his jaw dropping second album.
ADHD is the highly anticipated and long awaited second album from skilled lyricist Joyner Lucas, and in a time of quarantines and isolation was frankly something I welcomed with open arms. I have been looking forward to this for a long time and reveals of big collaborations such as Chris Brown only pushed my expectations higher. The album is titled after the condition that Joyner himself has dealt with all through his life and follows a string of teasing single releases, including a surprise feature with logic on Isis, and the hard-hitting Revenge.
Firstly, let’s address the skits. There are four in total which is fairly standard for a rap album, however these can be split thematically into two and two. The curtain rises on the album with Screening Evaluation, where in a young Joyner character is being asked a series of questions by a doctor, this is later continued towards the end of the album with Comprehensive Evaluation. Both skits feature a back drop of eerie piano music and offer equally powerful scripting, with the doctor not only shouting at the Young Joyner but also advising him to turn to drugs to help with his ADHD. It is unclear whether this is entirely based on something that happened in Joyner’s past or more a symbolic interpretation of his experiences with doctors, either way it gets the album off to a very intense start.
The other two skits come as more of a light relief, featuring both comedians Chris Tucker and Kevin Hart through answering machine messages. Chris Tucker’s skit involves him trivialising Joyner’s ADHD in a much more humorous way, claiming Joyner is using it to gain sympathy, boost sales, and as an excuse for the long wait for his album. The truth behind this is uncertain but with Chris Tucker’s expert comedic delivery it’s hard to take it seriously. The skit with Hart involves him suggesting that he is owed money by Joyner who borrowed it to keep up the pretence of a lavish lifestyle while he was broke, before Hart threatens that despite not being allowed on the rides at Disneyworld, he could still kick Joyner’s ass. The honesty in this one seems maybe less likely, particularly in the way that Hart delivers it whilst obviously stifling laughter towards the end, but with good reason as it is frankly hilarious. I think it works well having these skits dotted throughout the album, and especially having the two different styles. The disturbing and arguably more meaningful skits offer a backdrop to Joyner’s suffering and the inspiration for the album, but four skits of this kind, or even just these two skits and no others would have maybe come across a little too dark.
Moving on to the music, the album kicks straight off at full speed with Isis and I Lied. Isis was actually released as a single a few months back and has been a favourite of mine since, but those who have not heard it before the album would be surprised to hear Logic coming in with a verse. I have to say, I love both artists and to see them address their past beef so openly in the tune, as well as simply two of the best lyricists around right now coming together on a track is so exciting. Despite all the anticipation, the song doesn’t disappoint, it has a catchy hook, clever punchlines and lyrics and an amazing drive behind it. I Lied follows in the same vein, hitting hard at the very start of the album and exciting us even more for what is to come.
These are followed by possibly my favourite song on the album The War, with a big feature from Young Thug. I have to say, Young Thug has never really been much to my taste with his heavily autotuned mumbles often muddying his delivery and for me making it difficult to engage with his verses. I do however concede that his performance on this song was exceptional with smooth melodies and the lethargic tone of his verse marrying perfectly with the rest of the song. Lucas more than matched Young Thug however, showing off his own melodic abilities for the first time in the album, his smooth rap as well as expertly delivered catchy hooks make for a vibe that’s equally laid back as it is intense. After such an explosive start with the first skit and two fast tempo hype songs, this laid back and easy listening tune is a really great break and shows off Joyner’s skill set perfectly.
Bringing us back to a peak in the middle is Devil’s Work. This is a great song and is hard to ignore purely based on its content. Firstly, the production is extremely clever, a minimalist beat manages to keep the tempo, intensity and drive but is not so overbearing that it distracts us from the real highlight of this almost poetic anthem, the lyrics. This is clearly intentional for this particular song and just shows the thought and work that it has taken to create this album. The lyrics in this track are what make it so heavy though, Joyner takes it upon himself to question God by underlining all the pain, suffering and struggle in the world before arguing “we supposed to be your children, I thought we family”. As if that wasn’t impactful enough, Joyner goes on to ask God why some of us die young and some don’t, and names examples like Donald Trump and R Kelly still being around whilst Nipsey Hussle, Tupac and Biggie Smalls all had to die. This is an extremely powerful message which is only strengthened by the anger and passion in its delivery, and despite first featuring on YouTube back in May 2019, recent events make this song more relatable than it ever was, and possibly was ever intended to be. I do however take issue with some parts in this track, as some of the people named by Joyner as those good guys such as xxxtentacion, Tupac and Michael Jackson, while all undoubtedly responsible for some great music, and all died younger than they should have, were not exactly angels during their lives. Despite this the song still delivers an impactful and thought-provoking message overall and the real drive behind it makes it an exciting listen.
The highly anticipated Chris Brown feature is a complete contrast to that of Devil’s Work, offering a much more easy-going vibe. The melody in the chorus is catchy and by the second time it comes around you’ll struggle to find yourself not attempting to join in. This is followed by a Timbaland feature which brings a catchy hype track feel. I have to say this was one of the more exciting prospects on the album but ultimately did not deliver as well as I thought it could have. I am a great fan of Timbaland’s rhythmic and percussion heavy production and I thought he would really take a track with Joyner to the next level but whilst being a good song it was unfortunately for me not as special as it could have been.
The title track ADHD also features in the latter stages of the album and was a very refreshing listen. Besides the skits Joyner had not really addressed ADHD much at all aside from a few mentions and a line in the chorus of ISIS. Considering it was the title I assumed it may be more of a feature on this album, so I was relieved when this track addressed my concern. Joyner takes the opportunity to document some of his struggles with the condition and does so with such affect that I ended up hanging from his every word by the end. Where as rappers often get accused of being too trivial or talking too much about drugs and money, it is always great to hear a song that pushes into some real experiences and issues. The production also makes this a very good song, the melody is catchy and is perfectly complimented by the beat. The verse is also well delivered, it actually reminds me a lot of xxxtentacion’s Sad!. One thing that has impressed me throughout the album is Joyner’s tone, he is able to really convey certain emotions or feels on a song using his style of voice, whether this is anger, pain or a more relaxed feel, and the much more reflective tone in this song really accentuates the lyrics he is delivering.
The album then closes off with two songs, Will and Broke and Stupid. These are both songs of a similar vein, catchy and entertaining, not to be taken too seriously. Will is particularly clever and despite being more of a fun track does actually have a powerful underlying message about idols, and how we should try and show our appreciation for them while they are still around, as Joyner is for Will Smith here. The track also shows off Joyner’s lyrical ability more than most other songs in the album; his aptitude to steer a rap of a completely different subject to include references to Will Smith and his career throughout is really impressive, and whilst the listener probably doesn’t take it too seriously, there is a lot of skill on display. Broke and Stupid is probably for me the perfect way to end the album, it works as almost a wind down to end on a song that is just simple and catchy rally gives a nice vibe for the final track.
I have to say I absolutely loved the album, song after song it kept me interested. Joyner showcases his versatility and ability perfectly with a good mix of upbeat hype like tracks, chilled out R&B type tunes as well as some more serious and intense lyrics. The only slight disappointment for me was the Timbaland feature maybe not having been as amazing as I thought. However, on any other album this would be a great song, maybe even a highlight, the only reason it is even slightly disappointing on this album is that when every song is 100%, the song that is 95% appears the runt of an exceptional litter.
I have to also give credit to the production and architecture on ADHD, each song is presented with a new catchy hook and the beats are perfect. The faster tracks are really driven by a powerful drums and bone shaking bass lines, it’s hard not to get lost in the sheer force that pushes the music on, but then when it comes to a slower track the much more laid back and relaxed beats makes for an atmospheric vibe wherein you just want to kick your feet up and enjoy. The beats also compliment the lyrics of each individual song perfectly, being aggressive when they need to be, but equally being much more relaxed and simplistic when it suits. As mentioned before, the beat in Devil’s Work encapsulates this the best, it manages to maintain an angry, up tempo feel that pushes an urgency throughout the track, but it does so in such a subtle and minimalistic manner that you barely notice it, you are purely lost in the preaching of Joyner, and it works so well. In terms of the architecture too, the album is ordered beautifully. The opening skit creates a dark and unnerving atmosphere, before two hard hitting hype songs smash through it, this is followed by an interlude of slower songs for us to catch our breath, and just as we are beginning to get comfortable we get introduced to Devil’s Work, strapping us in for the second half. A similar pattern is followed in the latter stages of the album, with stages of fast and slow, ups and downs broken up by more skits. The whole things feels like an amazing journey to listen to, and then to end it with two fun and catchy tunes leaves you with a smile on your face. I take no hesitation in saying that this album is by far the best new released rap album in the last five years, possibly even ten, and a real tribute to the skillset of Joyner Lucas.
Read another of David's articles here
Originally published in The Cherwell
In these days of self-isolation and social distancing, we find ourselves with a lot of time to look inwards. But no matter how much introspection you get done, one thing’s for sure - Ruthie Collins is way ahead of you. On her sophomore album, Cold Comfort, she shows incredible self-awareness, guiding the listener through a tumultuous tunnel of guilt, grief and heartbreak, before courageously emerging out the other side.
The album opens with ‘Joshua Tree’, a movingly poetic tale of setting your demons free under the light “where a million stars catch fire to the sky”. It plays like a bottle of Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey, with Collins’ soothing, sugary vocals washing warmly over you, before the kick of emotional rawness reminds you that this isn’t a child’s drink. The line, “Will you say my name like hallelujah, love me like you're free”, hints at the underlying tension, and we soon realise this is a song about a lost loved one. The accompanying video fills in the gaps, with Collins being haunted by flashbacks of her partner’s battle with substance abuse, before it reaches its tragic denouement. The song is inspired by Country legend Gram Parson’s death at the Joshua Tree Inn.
‘Untold’ carries the same gravitas, as Collins pulls you hypnotically along the winding road of “a love story untold”, the track building with every twang of the electric guitar to a bittersweet crescendo. She lets loose on the titular ‘Cold Comfort’, with a punchy, high-energy beat and a compelling hook. She tries to rationalise her pain, reassuring herself that it will only get better with time, before conceding that this is only a ‘cold comfort’.
The battle between head and heart is a persistent theme, particularly on ‘Bad Woman’, Collins’ recently released single. She grapples with her temptation to pursue a taken man, and playfully wonders whether life would be easier is she could just leave her conscience behind and do what she wants. Collins finds herself stuck in another moral quandary on ‘Cheater’. She begins to have feelings for a new man, and while her ex is no longer a part of the picture, she still finds herself feeling as if she’s cheating on him. Collins repeats the word ‘Cheater’ over and over again, as if we are hearing the voice in her head incessantly taunting her.
Cold Comfort is a tangled, thorny bouquet of roses, the sweet scents and elegance being constantly countered by the anguish lying beneath. Every song has a sombre tinge, and this makes for a captivating listen. Given the testing times we are in, my initial reaction was to wish Collins had included a few shafts of light to break up the clouds of darkness that hang ominously over her new album.
I would still say some moments of uplifting levity wouldn’t go amiss, just to show Collins’ versatility as an artist. However, the more you listen, the more you realise that the tone of this album isn’t one of torment or pain, despite its subject matter. It’s overwhelmingly peaceful and easy to listen to, and this takes me back to the point about Collins’ self-awareness. She may be documenting tragedy, but we hear her voice coming from a place of acceptance, and despite the flashes of agony that pervade Cold Comfort, the feeling the album imparts on the listener is one of serenity.
Collins’ warm, laid-back voice coupled with her vintage-chic aesthetic gives her an appealing uniqueness, and it feels as though she is heading for the country charts in her own lane. She draws inspiration from the likes of Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, and the poignance she gives to every line, ever image, and every melody underlines her dedication to the history and craft of Country music. If you’re going to be a Country star, you have to be able to tell a good story. On Cold Comfort, Collins pieces together a richly detailed and deeply moving tapestry of tragedy, vulnerability, and, despite it all, strength - leaving listeners with a renewed sense of determination to tackle the unprecedented challenges facing us today.
Ruthie Collins’ album Cold Comfort, featuring the brand new single ‘Bad Woman’, is out now on all platforms.
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?