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Jorge Velez - Roman Birds Music Album Reviews

Inspired by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this five-track ambient wonder finds the New York producer letting pulses and motifs overlap until the tracks resemble the inside of a lava lamp.
Jorge Velez has long been prolific, but that’s been especially true in the past few years. Like many underground electronic musicians, the New York producer has taken advantage of the internet’s self-publishing opportunities—in particular, the direct-to-fans platform Bandcamp—to sidestep label gatekeepers, streaming services, and crowded retailers. (Velez’s Bandcamp page currently numbers 26 releases.) Velez first gained recognition a dozen years ago with blippy disco derivatives for labels like Italians Do It Better, but his output has gradually become more esoteric and inward-looking. He’s still capable of ebullient club tracks, as last year’s excellent Forza attests, but many of his long, undulating machine jams sound like late-night missives to himself.

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Jesse James Solomon - Strata EP Music Album Reviews

Jesse James Solomon - Strata EP Music Album Reviews
Named after an architectural icon looming over South East London, the rapper’s six-track EP offers a detailed account of life at the building’s base.

The strip of South East London called Elephant & Castle, home to the reclusive poet-rapper Jesse James Solomon, has completely transformed in recent years, and nothing better symbolizes the area’s gentrification than the Strata building. It is a looming figure, shaped like a beard trimmer, whose three eerily glowing, famously defunct wind turbines positioned at its head peer over local housing estates, hyper-visible for anyone living nearby to see.

Strata is painted on the artwork of Solomon’s new six-track EP, and it is also its namesake; its presence suggests the way the South London MC might have watched the building’s ascent from rain-soaked windows, leaf-pressed pavements, and soggy park benches as a teenager. His newest release is a flâneur’s account of unstable life at the building’s base. By sourcing symbolism from its architecture, he suggests Strata as a reliable structure of guiding permanence, like the lighthouse in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and an ominous, all-seeing entity, like Sauron’s tall blinking eye in Lord of the Rings.

“Lionel Jesse” dives straight into tales of his past on the short introductory title track: “I see a young me, I see the moonlight on the pavement.” This sensitive allusion to way-back-when, to local life when the nearby Heygate estate still stood, housing thousands of people in its sprawling network of council flats—“Heygate was where that crane is”—is nothing new. For years, Solomon’s vividly penned memories have been the binding thread of his music, interwoven throughout his stories of young life in the neglected inner city. Throughout the new EP, the imagery of youth remains everywhere, poured out like hot wax over smoky UK hip-hop beats from soulful crate-digger Felix Joseph. Solomon looks back on playing team sports, hating the “frustration in his mother’s eyes,” and sitting on his push-bike, wrapped -up in a troubled love affair with his wintry ends.

He occasionally risks staring too hard into the rear-view mirror. It would be nice to know more about him now, after his rise to cult fame: References to Uber rides over the Thames and along the infamously hectic Walworth (“Woolie”) road, to smoking weed and reflecting on existence, to lines of coke and carelessly spilling champagne, provide a much-needed glimpse into his updated world. The fact he has dug into new caves of his consciousness shows precisely how he has grown since the buzz started to stir around his uniquely soft, piercing lyricism in 2015. His reputation is now cemented as a more philosophical affiliate of King Krule, Rejjie Snow, and Wiki—a legitimate power player among this roster of edgy transatlantic wordsmiths.

Strata’s sometimes overwhelmingly dense internal logic is thankfully simplified by patient, moody choruses from kadiata and ELIZA on “Under the Sun” and “Don’t Make Me,” respectively. The latter is an unprecedented conversation about love, and includes Solomon’s fleeting admission of being prepared to “leave the city for a weekend, if you like.” “Goat Talk,” sprinkled with muted ad-libs from man-of-the-moment Suspect, shows Solomon at his most confident and therefore purest. Less hampered by self-consciousness, he sounds happy to embark on a mission of braggadocio alongside the encouraging yelps of his friend and South London contemporary.

It is tempting to admire the emphasis on quality over quantity here. But after such a long wait, the EP should really be longer. It would also benefit from more of the rebellious energy displayed on last summer’s “Son of the Ends,” again with Suspect, or the pair’s recent hit “One Way,” featuring a verse from grime king Skepta. Going forward, if Solomon can counterweight his low-key, late-night reflections with more sparkle and experimentation, he will secure a stable seat aboard the current skyrocket of London’s rap scene. But within Strata’s modest framework, Solomon achieves what he sets out to do: jog people’s memories and offer an even more detailed roadmap for fans of his evolving introverse. You would be hard pressed to find a better lyricist in London. Surely an album is on the horizon? At least we have a clearer view ahead from the secure heights of Strata.

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