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Kevin Abstract - ARIZONA BABY Music Album Reviews

The BROCKHAMPTON star’s latest solo album is an often powerful document by a queer artist who has weathered life’s bruises.
In a move inspired by Shia LaBeouf’s bemusing catalog of durational work, Kevin Abstract recently endured 10 hours on a treadmill on a suburban street of his hometown, Corpus Christi, Tex. While running, the BROCKHAMPTON singer and rapper multi-tasked: He took selfies, signed sneakers, posed with a baby, and mumbled along to the chorus of his recent single, the yearning gay love song “Baby Boy.” Abstract vaguely told one fan that the performance was to teach empathy—indeed, you could interpret it as an allegory for the upstream battle to make it out of suburbia for so many kids—but that didn’t save it from feeling like a stunt.

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Buck Meek - Buck Meek Music Album Reviews

Buck Meek - Buck Meek Music Album Reviews
The debut solo album from the Big Thief guitarist has a quiet and mischevious spirit, with a focus put on his nimble playing and Texas twang.

Buck Meek may not be a household name, but as a guitarist for Big Thief, he’s been a chief architect of several dazzling songs. His instrumental skills lie not in writing instant earworms or arena-rattling riffs; rather, his playing galvanizes the emotional impact of Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s words.

On his self-titled solo debut, however, Meek delivers limber, springy songs that prioritize his songwriting and a more laid-back approach to the guitar. Before Big Thief got off the ground, he and Lenker worked together on sparse, guitar-driven tunes that they released under their own names. Meek’s new material hews closer to those proto-Big Thief songs—they share the same loose-limbed affability and a gentle spirit that evades frailty.

But at its core, Buck Meek feels like a country record, and not just because Meek’s native Texan twang stands at the forefront of every tune. The album has a mischievous spirit like the celebrated self-titled LP from cult-hit country star Willis Alan Ramsey. With its lightly teasing chorus and Meek’s goading delivery, “Ruby” in particular feels like the grandchild of Ramsey’s saucy “Northeast Texas Women.” “Joe by the Book” is a straightforward appreciation of an honest mechanic, while closing number “Fool Me” is a woozy whirl that feels tailor-made for last-call, abetted by wobbly honky-tonk piano and touches of pedal steel reverberating in the background. The song reels like a liquor-fueled lament, with Meek singing, “Every time and time again/I’m the loser in the end.” Employing a favored narrative tool of country balladeers, Meek wryly twists the song as it ends: “Fool me with your tears any time,” he sings in its final moments.

Meek’s songs are at their strongest when just amble from beginning to end. His prickly guitar riffs on “Sue” make it sound as though he could barely be bothered to finish bringing them to fruition. But he’s too good of a guitarist for such a move to be actual laziness; rather, these tricks merely bolster the record’s generally easygoing mood. When he occasionally edges into darker areas, he never dwells there for long. “Flight 9525” feels cold and lonely across its two minutes with its refrain of “If I could find a way back home, I’d go.” Later in the record, “Best Friend” outlines an unnamed betrayal that seems to be from the perspective of a dog. Meek sketches out recurring characters and situations, but leaves listeners to their own devices on filling in the blanks. He never tips his hand as to who Suzy is or why Maybelle is sighing wistfully at her costume jewelry, but sometimes these mysteries add unexpected flutters of humor: “It’s hard to know what time the roast went in/’Cause I locked myself outside again” he concludes on “Exit 7 Roses.”

With only two of his ten songs extending past three minutes, Meek leaves little time for a listener to sink into each one. As a result, the album feels like a modest sampler of light refreshments rather than a radical statement of self, and the weightlessness that makes many of the record’s components so charming also prevents them from making a substantial impact. Buck Meek may evaporate quickly, but it sublimates into songs that are hard to leave behind.

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