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Neutral Milk Hotel - On Avery Island Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the oft-overshadowed debut from indie rock icons, a smaller and more intimate look into the mercurial world of Jeff Mangum.
In the mid-’90s, Jeff Mangum moved into a haunted closet in Denver where he had dreams of women in fur coats drinking champagne, yelling at him to get out of their house. During a snowy Colorado winter, the Louisiana-born songwriter and his childhood friend Robert Schneider set about recording what would become Neutral Milk Hotel’s debut album. They worked feverishly, going out to smoke cigarettes when they hit a roadblock, until, in May of 1995, they had a finished record. The North Carolina indie label Merge scooped up the young band and quietly released On Avery Island the following March.

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GoldLink - Diaspora Music Album Reviews

GoldLink’s second album stretches far beyond his home in the DMV. It is a confluence of black music; hip-hop tracing its way back to the universal sounds of Africa.

GoldLink’s 2017 album At What Cost was a monument to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. It was a valiant attempt to capture the unwanted (read: gentrified) remnants of a lost city before it changed for good. But it wasn’t bitter about what was lost; it was hopeful about what it found. His second album, Diaspora, stretches outward. It pulls not just from across the music of the many displaced black communities the world over, as you might expect from the title, but follows the tendrils of influence back to Latin America and China. It is daring to follow your most local album with something so international, which just happens to be the best music of his career.


Because this is a GoldLink album, the center of his diaspora is still D.C., and he can’t help but sneak in DMV locals from Gaithersburg (Bibi Bourelly), Capitol Heights (Lil Nei), and Woodbridge (WaveIQ), along with Virginia Beach’s Pusha T. But the album follows throughlines from D.C. to Los Angeles to London, then to Nigeria, closing the gaps between rap, R&B, Afrobeats, reggae fusion, and pop music in the process. GoldLink proudly stands in the middle of a tremendous musical legacy, honoring its many corners and the many people who represent them. “GoldLink,” as he says on the song “Yard,” “is a black work of art.”

As such, Diaspora is first and foremost a confluence of black music; hip-hop tracing its way back to the universal sounds of Africa. The album doesn’t make rap feel global; this isn’t an attempt to unpack the sham “world music” genre. By connecting dots, it makes the world feel smaller. It’s another illustration of how the realm of black music is interconnected. With producers hailing from London, Los Angeles, Ghana, and Kenya, Diaspora is ambitious, expansive yet intimate, dutty wine-worthy, and slick.

As the diaspora converges around GoldLink, he performs a heightened version of his patented stoicism. “Sold weed, sold pills, sold D, sold this, sold that/Look, I don’t wanna talk about it all/Seen fiends, seen death, seen shots, seen this, seen that/Look, I don’t wanna talk about it all,” he raps on “Maniac,” and his verses largely stick to that withholding pattern. There aren’t any metaphors. He isn’t setting up punchlines. It’d be inaccurate to call him a storyteller. He mostly raps in narrative told through epigrams and personal proverbs.

The chronicles, which are all anecdotal, have lessons or tidbits baked into them. “Couple months ago, I was in the city on a date with a single ting/You’d prolly know her, and I never show, and she told me how she get security/But I always tell her, ‘I’m a hood nigga and this famous shit is new to me’,” he raps on “No Lie.” Some info is imparted as exposition; some the listener obtains second hand through dialogue. He’s never quite forthcoming, always concealing something, which is fitting for someone who kept his face hidden through much of his breakthrough. But his raps are bracing, and he is in complete command.

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Whether navigating the “Future Bounce” of his debut mixtape, Soulection’s “lo-fi beats to chill to” aesthetic, or the more intensely rhythmic music of the black diaspora, GoldLink nestles so deeply into the groove it’s as if he’s been sucked into a riptide. His flows are so painless they’re almost leisurely. That natural almost easygoing sense can be quite a juxtaposition with his hard knocks raps (“Turned 13, had my first stick/Ride around the city with the stolen whips/Fought niggas ’fore I had a first kiss”). He is a brass tacks rapper whose verses are nearly spartan in their presentations of his ever-changing life (“I done seen so many come, I done seen so many go/Pistol packing, then I started trapping, then I started rapping, then I blowed”), but his cadences are always poised, precise, and fluid. He’s swift when he has some margin but he’s even better in tight spaces, as on “U Say,” where he twirls between the polyrhythms like he’s jumping double dutch. Diaspora is simply further proof that there isn’t any beat he can’t zip his way through.

It’s GoldLink’s ability to seem at home in any space that makes Diaspora so coherent, and so specific to him, despite pulling music from all over. He is the anchor. He is as snug next to Wizkid as he is with Khalid. He has Bibi Bourelly singing in Lingala on a song with British-Nigerian Afro-fusionist Maleek Berry. As “Coke White / Moscow” and “No Lie” rev up to bigger and sleeker second acts, he simply adjusts his default setting like he’s shifting into another gear. On “Rumble,” he is the bridge between his DMV roots and rap’s global impact: He brings together the extremely local Lil Nei and Got7 rapper Jackson Wang, a Hong Kong native working in the K-pop industry. These two wouldn’t be rapping together under any other circumstance. Working that unlikely pairing is undeniable proof of Diaspora’s ambition to harness rap’s power to integrate.


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