James Reid, Lana Del Rey, and Tyler, the Creator shine when they challenge convention

“Palm Dreams”
James Reid

When word of “Palm Dreams” started going around, the album was being buzzed as James Reid’s attempt to break into the international global arena. The framework of hype is hard to avoid, and with it come tiresome questions of what it takes for Filipino music to compete with the west. These are valid methods of complication, but this review will concern itself more with the album as a self-contained work.

Let’s be up front though: “Palm Dreams” is a damn good album. Vocally, James kills it, his phrasing Drake-like and his crooning almost Weeknd-esque. The creative imprint of Paulo Tiongson (A.K.A. Poor Taste) as the album’s beat maestro is also apparent here, each track imbued with the kind of polish other artists would kill for.

The one contention I have though is that “Palm Dreams” — tight as it is, clocking in at only nine tracks — plays it a little too safe. The parts where the album is weakest are where it over-relies on the conventions of the genres that influence it — tiring trap beats (Turning Up), chopped Chipmunk vocal warps (Mean 2 U), and dudebro-y lyrics that sometimes border on crass (Bret Jackson’s rap verse on On Top is especially mediocre). When does the album shine, then? When James and Paulo eff with the unexpected, like the gnarly guitar solo in Down Low, or the suave-as-f*** chorus of Forever.

So do we judge a pop album by how faithfully it executes convention, or how far it pushes the sonic envelope? Or is that dichotomy false? I don’t know. But “Palm Dreams” has torn me up about it in a good way, and is worth multiple listens. One of the goals here may have been for James to represent himself anew, and in that respect the album is successful. But I earnestly hope that his project of reinvention does not stop here. — Jam Pascual

Rating: A-

 

“Lust for Life”
Lana del Rey

If her lesser known musical debut Lizzy Grant a.k.a. Lana del Rey first introduced to us the glamour of LDR minus the embellishments, Born to Die her penchant for orchestral bombast and skewed Americana, Ultraviolence her foray into noir backed by elements of shoegaze, Honeymoon her homecoming to baroque pop albeit more whimsical, her fifth studio album, Lust for Life is her renaissance.

This is where she comes full circle, seemingly striking a seamless balance to the theatrics of her sonic palette. With this record, we hear an LDR comfortably prodding the haunting stylized cinematic aesthetic she’s been known for; this time, however, more self-aware and a calculated restraint.

Unapologetic at 16 songs and 72 minutes — her most expansive album to date — “Lust for Life” breaks free from the dark gloom that has always cast a shadow over her recent EP’s heads, which at times feel too heavy and dragging. This time around, it caters to a more positive upbeat sound. The tracks feel more present and authentic too, an unraveling of hers we haven’t seen from previous records. You’ll find this in Love, a hopeful message to the youth, and towards the end, to herself. “Change is a powerful thing. I feel it coming in me,” she belts further in Change. Musings about current undertakings of America cloud her mind in World Was at War, We Kept Dancing and Coachella-Woodstock in My Mind. Fans of her recurring themes wouldn’t be at a total loss here either with the likes of Groupie Love (This is my life/ You by my side), Heroin, and White Mustang.

Sure, the album may not have produced the grandiose or power of previous LDR hits like Born to Die or Video Games. But we don’t see it as a lesser work. Frankly, we’re relieved that LDR has moved past the slinky red dress and her cautionary tales of violence, bad men, and forbidden love. While not exactly her piece de resistance, this is her most resplendent in growth yet. — Arrah Balucating

Grade: B+

“Flower Boy”
Tyler, The Creator

For the past eight years, we’ve dealt with Tyler, The Creator’s bursts of aggression in his distorted Free World edition of Neverland. Brash and youthful AF all throughout his discography, it seems as if “Flower Boy,” (formerly leaked as “Scum F**k Flower Boy,”) serves as Tyler’s antithesis to himself.

The former Odd Future frontman produced and composed every single track on this album. Its kaleidoscopic direction comes as no surprise, as we got glimpses of this latest release’s psychedelic, Mac DeMarco-esque sound from Tyler’s 2015 release “Cherry Bomb,” in tracks F*****G YOUNG/PERFECT, and FIND YOUR WINGS. Features with Kali Uchis, Rex Orange County, Steve Lacy and Frank Ocean really cemented the flower power-y vibe that shouts out to Pharrell’s work with N.E.R.D.

Lyrics like “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” on I Ain’t Got Time, and the long questioning from Foreword where he asks “How many cars can I buy ‘til I run out of drive?/How much drive can I have ‘til I run out of road?” tell us our favorite shock jock rapper (if he still fits under that exact label) is coming to terms with the deeper issues that plague him: such as his coming out as bisexual, and his insecurity masked behind his materialistic obsession with cars and chains.

“Flower Boy” is Tyler’s most sonically coherent album to date: it represents his transcendence past his established musical identity, and coming of age. If you’re missing the old Tyler, you still have A$AP Rocky’s banger verse on Who Dat Boy, but that’s not the Tyler we have now. He’s busy enjoying now, today. — Enzo Tan

Grade: A

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