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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.





Ed Sheeran - No.6 Collaborations Project Music Album Reviews

The pop star’s compilation features Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and Stormzy in a sometimes nice but hopelessly transparent attempt at a hip-hop crossover.

The rumors are confirmed: Ed Sheeran finally married his longtime girlfriend, Cherry Seaborn. In an interview with radio host Charlamagne tha God—really, an hour of small talk recorded at the studio of Sheeran’s countryside home in Suffolk and released alongside the album in lieu of any major press—Sheeran fills us in with blissful references to their life together. He’s ditched the good-natured, drunken shenanigans that once led to a scar on his cheek from the sword of an actual British royal in favor of nesting with the person he calls “his lady.” Please congratulate Ed Sheeran on his graduation to matrimony, to becoming an absolute wife guy.

Therein lies the conceptual premise of the bulk of the guest-ladenNo. 6 Collaborations Project. There’s “I Don’t Care,” an early single featuring Justin Bieber and maybe the best effort on No.6, a vector of the dancehall-lite rhythms sounds Sheeran debuted on 2017’s “Shape Of You.” Bieber, a fellow newlywed, shares in Sheeran’s swelling melodies and loving truisms: “I don't care when I'm with my baby, yeah/All the bad things disappear.” Then there’s “Cross Me,” featuring Chance the Rapper and a hook fashioned out of a sample of PnB Rock’s 2017 XXL Freshman cypher, a well-meaning if slightly paternalistic ode to their respective partners.

But the change in Sheeran’s marital status has not inspired a shift away from the chip on his shoulder: I’m not a cool guy, I’m a regular guy, is the subtext of his career thus far. No.6 opens with a heavy-handed, Khalid-assisted reminder that he is not one of the “beautiful people,” a catchy calculation appropriate for the sad-pop dominating the charts. “Antisocial,” featuring Travis Scott and his signature skittering drums, begins with a bizarre instruction: “All you cool people, you better leave now.”

In an album defined mostly by banality, “South of the Border,” featuring Camila Cabello and Cardi B, is an actual bizarre moment. It’s a Latin-pop fantasy—Sheeran sings of someone’s “caramel thighs” and “curly hair”—punctuated by Cardi’s suggestion that “Ed got a little jungle fever.” Huh? Maybe unintentionally, the raceplay points directly to the elephant in the room: Though he built his fame on confessional, earnest acoustic guitar songs, Ed Sheeran loves black music, and he wants you to know it.

Unfortunately, on No.6, that appreciation largely manifests as the belief that he is a competent rapper. On one song, “Take Me Back To London” featuring Stormzy, his flow bears a suspicious resemblance to “Bitch Better Have My Money”-era Rihanna. (Sheeran has settled plagiarism lawsuits on at least three occasions and will go to trial on a fourth this September.) There, and elsewhere, his raps are cringey and simplistic, with all of the subtlety of a plot-driven song written by Lin Manuel Miranda: “It's that time/Big Mike and Teddy are on grime/I wanna try new things, they just want me to sing/Because nobody thinks I write rhymes.”

Being a fan of rap doesn’t mean you can rap. I would never delude myself into thinking I could run a kitchen just because I’ve spent years watching “Chopped.” Alongside 50 Cent and Eminem, both way past their prime as rappers, Sheeran sounds even more out of his depth on “Remember the Name”: “Yeah, I was born a misfit, grew up 10 miles from the town of Ipswich/Wanted to make it big, I wished it to existence/I never was a sick kid, always dismissed quick/‘Stick to singing, stop rappin’,’ like it's Christmas.” Those unnamed haters were right and No.6 confirms that Sheeran is better off sticking within his skillset. “Feels,” which ingeniously unites Young Thug and J Hus, and “Put It All On Me,” which offers Ella Mai a warm piano to shine over, are legitimately irresistible.

In a 2014 Vibe cover story, in which a reporter witnessed him freestyle over beats including YG’s “My Nigga,” Sheeran was described as having a “hip-hop soul.” A couple years later, Stormzy, with whom Sheeran has something of a friendship, took it further. “Even with his rapping he can execute it well,” he told GQ. It didn’t quite come out of nowhere. In the early days, he’d experimented with what a collaborator describes as “singing rap.” And in 2011, after independently releasing a handful of EPs in the style of alt-folk-rock singer-songwriter forbearers like Jason Mraz, he convinced grime greats like Wiley and Jme to participate in his No.5 Collaborations Project album, after which No.6 is modeled. Over the years, he’s performed multiple Nina Simone covers, recorded a song in the Ghanaian language of Twi, and told Billboard that Justin Timberlake, unparalleled in the cultural phenomenon of “blue-eyed soul,” was “pretty close to a direct inspiration.”

Nearly 8 years, 150 million albums sold, and dozens of arena-headlining tour dates after No.5, he’s employed a similar ethos but with the expanded budget and superstar access of his status as one of the world’s best-selling artists. Like the original compilation project, much of No 6. is as bad in theory as it is in practice. Pop music has drawn from black cultural expression since the dawn of its existence, becoming increasingly absorbent in recent years. As hip-hop and diasporic genres like Afropop, dancehall, and dembow have framed the dominant modalities of contemporary radio, inspiration and appropriation have become business moves as much as artistic choices. But few releases have been as baldly transparent and destined for ubiquity as No.6, which has all the conspicuous mining of a Drake album, but very little of the finesse or cultural fluency.

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