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Bryce Vine - Carnival Music Album Reviews

The debut full-length from the “Drew Barrymore” singer isn’t designed for conscious, focused listening. This is music for poolsides and basements.
Bryce Vine describes himself as “OutKast and Blink-182 got drunk with the Gorillaz.” Perhaps a more apt comparison is KYLE taking bong hits with Dave Matthews Band, or Jason Mraz sniffing poppers with Doja Cat. At 31, Vine is at an unconventional age for frat-rap prominence. He established a fanbase nearly a decade ago, as a contestant on “The Glee Project,” a reality television show based off the Ryan Murphy high school drama. His real rise came with 2017’s “Drew Barrymore,” a swirl of neon synths that went platinum, possibly by being added to every “Chill Vibes” playlist in existence.

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Skepta - Ignorance Is Bliss Music Album Reviews

Three years after he galvanized a new class of UK rappers, the grime MC tries to meet the high bar he set for himself.

In May 2016—before Brexit, before Trump, before plastic straw bans—Skepta released Konnichiwa, an uncompromising blow to the establishment and one of the best grime albums of the decade. The Mercury Prize-winning album quickly turned the heads of UK execs bent on ignoring homegrown talent, becoming a beacon to younger MCs who sought broader recognition. It received an unprecedented Top 10 placement in the UK charts, leading the way for a number of rappers who would follow in his slipstream. Now, with Ignorance Is Bliss, Skepta is faced with meeting the high-water mark he set for grime what seemed like ages ago.


In the years following Konnichiwa, Skepta dropped a handful of new tracks and features but mostly occupied himself with designing Nike trainers, launching a high-end streetwear line, and causing a mild tabloid stir by posing unclad with supermodel Naomi Campbell for the cover of GQ. He also set up a youth music facility in his hometown of Tottenham, London, was made a chief in Nigeria, and, late last year, became a father. Somewhat fittingly, Ignorance Is Bliss is an album that swings between the glamorous life of a tastemaker and someone grappling with new responsibilities both practical and esoteric in nature.

Searing political barbs and fiery rhetoric have become the lingua franca of the UK’s new class of MCs. Breakthrough rappers such as Dave, Stormzy, and slowthai are lauded as dissident voices for a young audience largely overlooked by the country’s legislators. This arguably comes less easily to Skepta (last year he became a short-lived meme after sticking his fingers in his ears at the very mention of politics.) Of course, he can engage when he wants to. “Glow In The Dark” offers deft commentary on political hypocrisy and identity politics. On album opener “Bullet From A Gun,” he flows effortlessly over a skittish slice of grime, covering everything from petty break-ups and juvenile braggadocio, to the never-ending rotation of the earth and his role in the long bloodline of Adenuga men. Skepta is at his best when he nails this kind of disaffected nonchalance. It makes the occasional flash of intimacy or vulnerability all the more powerful—“Recently I’ve been learning a lot/All I know is there’s no better feeling/Than getting home and seeing my little girl in her cot,” he off-hands on “Bullet From A Gun.”

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Some of the flourishes in his production are exquisite here. The beat to “Same Old Story” is a fresh take on the kind of golden-era emotive grime peddled by Ruff Sqwad, and the 90 seconds of glistening synths and stream-of-conscious monologue that begin “Animal Instinct” feels genuinely inventive, too. But these bright moments stand out against a sometimes patchy showing: The beat to “No Sleep” is as jarring as the insomnia it conjures and serves only to mask Skepta’s skippy flow; “Going Through It” feels like a half-baked idea that should have been left on the cutting room floor; “You Wish” is a lesson in how chorus-led grime tunes will always be a hit-or-miss affair. In a statement accompanying the album, Skepta said: “The internet is making everything and everyone politically correct but that takes away the artistry.” But in the context of tone-deaf metaphors such as “slap it like Ike Turner” on “Redrum,” the freedom of speech he’s so aggrieved about hardly seems worth it.

In the video for “Bullet From A Gun,” Skepta sits in a North London underground station watching over a stroller while the trials of inner city life swirl around him. As so often with Skepta, whose tight one-liners and impeccable diction have set him apart since the days of fuzzy pirate radio broadcasts, the message is clear and unselfconsciously simple: Fatherhood has offered him a new perspective. But as the album plays out with its series of sketches that flip between the trivial and contemplative, and as Skepta tussles to find his place in the world, you’re left wondering whether he craves the bliss of youthful innocence or the responsibility of being a voice for a generation. Unfortunately, Ignorance Is Bliss is a deferral, splitting the difference with a series of half-measures. When he apes fellow UK rapper J Hus’ freestyle flow on the second verse of “What Do You Mean” it’s hard to determine whether it’s pure homage or a kind of time-warped nostalgia, a yearning to return to his own breakthrough days.


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