Music reviews: Kendrick Lamar, Cold War Kids
To Pimp a Butterfly
One of 2015's most feverishly anticipated hip-hop albums, Californian rapper Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly certainly lived up to its hype when it dropped a week earlier than expected. On the first day of its release, the follow-up to the West Coaster's critically acclaimed and platinum-selling major label debut Good Kid, M.A.A.d City set a global record on Spotify with 9.6 million streamed tracks in a single day.
Of course, popularity doesn't simply equate to good taste. So is the 27-year-old emcee's expletive-laden sophomore effort really that good? Well yes, it really is. If you're a fan of hip hop, you'll likely already be familiar with three of its previously released tracks. King Kunta is a stomping beast of 1970s Parliament funk, while the confrontational The Blacker the Berry sees Lamar full of rage and hatred for racist America. The Isley Brothers sampling i reveals his poppier side: with its celebratory chant of "I love myself", it's an epic anthem of self-belief. Lamar has delivered a challenging, empowering and lyrically dense album, and remains one of rap's brightest stars.
Cold War Kids
Hold My Home
You have to feel for a band when they unwittingly hit a creative peak on their debut album and then spend the subsequent years of their dwindling career desperately struggling, and failing, to attain those same heights of success. Orange County natives Cold War Kids are one such band.
Arriving on the scene in 2006 with Robbers and Cowards, an album of off-kilter indie rock that rode the coat tails of jittery hit single We Used to Vacation and the soulful vibrato talents of lead singer Nathan Willet, the slow and steady decline since has seen founding members jump ship as obscurity beckons the Kids warmly with open arms.
Hold My Home, their fifth studio album, sees them on familiar forgettable form: pounding piano chords, jangly guitars and driving drum beats abound as each song becomes ever more reliant on Willet’s dynamic voice to fight through the mediocrity. The sparse, slow-burning Harold Bloom and bluesy closer Hear My Baby Call are the stand-outs, the only real times when the songs sound genuinely heartfelt and not a faint echo of U2 dreariness. Not far to go now boys.
Late Night Tales - Jon Hopkins
Night Time Stories Ltd
Soundtracking post-party comedowns for more than a decade, the mix album series Late Night Tales has seen the likes of Royksopp, Air and Groove Armada pick the tunes for chill-out sessions.
Following on from his breakthrough Immunity in 2013, it's now the turn of British producer Jon Hopkins to raid his record box and deliver 70-plus minutes of widescreen ambient techno. Opening with the delicate piano of Sleepers Beat Theme by composer Ben Lukas Boysen, the shimmering keys continue with Darkstar's Hold Me Down as the mood begins to ebb and flow, transitioning seamlessly between genres, Hopkins mixing from "music that I have been listening to for years, free from the constraints of a club setting".
The bleary-eyed trip moves from electronica (David Holmes, Teebs, Four Tet - who has also curated the series) to indie (School of Seven Bells) and onto psych folk (Alela Diane), Hopkins linking things beautifully together with newly composed synth and piano pieces and even snatching the glory with his own piano cover of Yeasayer's I Remember. Blissful stuff.