Honor Roll: New albums of Jay-Z, Haim and Toro Y Moi make waves

For our new section ‘Honor Roll,’ we dive deeper into the waters of media criticism. From music to literature, TV to film, we do our best to inform you about the merits (and demerits, in some of cases) of where you might look for entertainment, and possible ways to critically engage what you may or may not enjoy. Here, we test if the latest releases of these three established musical acts meet up to the high expectations placed upon them. —Jam Pascual

“4:44”
Jay-Z

Hov took a major sonic swerve on his long-anticipated thirteenth album release “4:44.” He veered away from the bombastic grandiose of 2011’s “Watch The Throne” and 2013’s “Magna Carta…Holy Grail” to deliver a more soulful, rooted performance. Blowing the smoke and mirrors away from the braggadocio of his discography, we get to see a side of Jay-Z he’s never permitted us to see before.

“4:44” to Jay-Z’s previous works stands like “To Pimp A Butterfly” to “Good Kid M.A.A.D City,” or “Blond” to “Channel Orange.” We’re treated to a more cohesive, narrative approach at the expense of having less single-oriented bangers. I could imagine the Frank Ocean’s featured track Caught Their Eyes finding its place on chill vibe playlists, and Legacy getting chopped and screwed by boom bap lo-fi producers. However, none of the ten songs seem to have that same radio gravitas Jay-Z’s previous albums had.

The sound is reminiscent of old school Kanye, which is funny given the blatant dissing of Ye in Kill Jay-Z. 4:44 is rife with samples of soul and funk artists like Nina Simone, The Fugees, and Stevie Wonder. The eponymous track 4:44 loops Hannah Williams and the Affirmations’ Late Nights & Heartbreak over its entire duration.

What we have on our hands is a humbling bare-all of Jay-Z’s apologies and musings on the world today. It’s refreshing to get a rawer view of Sean Carter in place of his usual machismo and pride. Jay-Z has proven he can own up to his shortcomings and still stand with conviction.

Rating: B+

— Lorenzo Tan

“Something to Tell You”
Haim

The sister trio’s debut “Days Are Gone” cast a long shadow in its wake with its retro ‘70s soft rock mingled with pop and R&B sensibilities that made it novel at the time — it was both of this time and not, something you might’ve even thought your parents could listen to. Coming almost four years later, their follow-up “Something to Tell You” falls a little short of the hype.

For want of better focus, one can’t help but feel dismissive of the album’s trite lyricism that ranges from the experience of beginning a relationship (“Don’t it feel like that night was from a dream / I’ve never felt nothing like that / looking at you looking right back”) up until its aftermath (I was a lover / I was a friend / Now I’m only just someone you call when it’s late enough to forget”), chronology be damned. It’s almost the same generic scope as the last album, which we can probably attribute to the band’s collective songwriting credit hence the lack of personality (which doesn’t necessarily take away its relatability).

Because the production and instrumentation on this album — albeit still commendable coming from these multi-instrumentalists who are friends with the right people — don’t seem to be as tight as the first one’s, it’s easy for songs to bleed into each other during earlier listens.

This album may still age well, but in the aftermath of its release, it fails to surpass its predecessor in the band’s attempt to move forward.

Rating: C+

—Beatrice Mata

“Boo Boo”
Toro Y Moi

When Chaz Bundick released “Boo Boo” for streaming on YouTube, he did so in the form of road trip footage. Some shots are of scenery quickly and blurrily passing by, as tracks bleed into each other for about 50 minutes.

The road trip is a pretty clever framing device. “Boo Boo” is being hailed by some American fans as the summer jam of 2017, the soundtrack to cross-country drives spent with good company. But I argue that Toro Y Moi’s reverb-laden, echoic melodies can resonate in any season, considering the album’s themes on the difficulties of fame, and what it means to deal with a breakup. “Boo Boo” is a rumination on impermanence, as you watch images of the world fade through the glass.

The album, because it’s so fuzzy and hazey, has no problem transitioning seamlessly from track to track. The usual drawback to this atmosphere-building approach is that each song is indistinguishable from the rest, and “Boo Boo” suffers from that just a little. But most of the tracks on the album are strong enough to stand on their own. Probably the most distinct song on here though is the ballad You and I, whose simple piano and vocal melodies make up the song’s emotional core: fearing what is to come and learning to accept it. Maybe this is a great example of a road trip soundtrack, a playlist that says it ain’t always bad to feel lost, as long as you’ve got a pastel sunset to look at.

Rating: B+

—Jam Pascual

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#music

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