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Third Eye Blind - Screamer Music Album Reviews

Third Eye Blind - Screamer Music Album Reviews On the band’s sixth album, frontman Stephan Jenkins Peter Pans his way through an improbably infectious set of would-be hits.
If he had less ambition and a lower tolerance for failure, Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins could be sipping Mai Tais with Mark McGrath on the deck of a ’90s rock cruise right now, enjoying a life of royalty checks and low expectations. Instead, he’s carried on as if any year might be the one where his group finally reclaims its former glory. Everything he does is a long-shot bid for relevance: He covers Bon Iver, records bold political statements, and generally does the last thing we ask from the second-tier figures of alt-rock’s yesteryear: He tries.

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Danny Brown - uknowhatimsayin¿ Music Album Reviews

On his fifth album, executive-produced by Q-Tip, Danny Brown ascends to a sort of hip-hop classicist nirvana and remains one of the most inventive and dimensional rappers working today.

Danny Brown’s breakout album came the year he turned 30. Now that he’s closing in on 40, he doesn’t seem to be settling into an elder-statesman role; judging by his new album uknowhatimsayin¿, he hasn’t settled at all. “Never look back, I will never change up,” he chants repeatedly on the first song—a vow to never let a groove become a rut, to stay the same without repeating yourself. It’s a lonely sort of promise, but it’s one that he’s kept: He remains as defiantly hard to situate now in the rap landscape today as he was in 2011.


Back then, he was ostentatiously weird, a gap-toothed Detroit rapper with a hyena voice who forever altered the smell and taste of Cool Ranch Doritos, a weirdo fashion plate back when something as mild as skinny jeans could cost you a label deal. Now that he looks like an original X-Man to SoundCloud rap’s New Mutants, he’s still an outlier: His devotion to punchlines and similes makes him sound almost rigid in the melted, borderless landscape of current rap. But this is the joy and pain of being a three-dimensional human in your records, over and over again; if you do it correctly, you’ll never quite fit in anywhere, ever.

When he announced that Q-Tip was going to executive-produce his new album, he reaffirmed that he was a classicist at heart, an old-school formalist in freak’s clothing. They are an odd pairing, The Abstract and The Hybrid; Q-Tip’s music has always felt comfortable and lived-in—wipe your feet on the rug, relax yourself, please settle down. His aesthetic is built on leaving space while figuring out how to make the quietest sound the most interesting one. Danny Brown’s most compelling music, meanwhile, has usually felt ready to leap out of its own skin, full of scraped nerves, nosebleeds, migraines, grinding teeth.

Working with Tip, Brown doesn’t tone his style down so much as modulate it, dotting his voice across these tracks like wasabi blobs. He mostly forgoes the downward-spiral theatrics of 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition and 2013’s Old, opting for punchlines and vivid images and creative cadences—trace over the jagged rhyme patterns of a song like “Negro Spiritual” and you might prick your finger. He stagger-steps around the looped guitar so nimbly it might escape your notice that he rhymes “on par,” “rental car,” “centaur,” and “Pat Benatar” within one 20-second gulp of breath.

Brown usually lunges out of beats, but here melts into them, making himself just another bright leaping dot on a cartoon assembly line. Individual production credits come from longtime collaborator Paul White, JPEGMAFIA, Flying Lotus, and Q-Tip himself, who coaxes and calms these nervy beats into a free-flowing suite, full of irregular rhythms and snipped edges. The snare snap on JPEG’s “3 Tearz” hits either a half-second later or sooner than you expect, prompting the loosest and most unpredictable verses from Killer Mike and El-P in years. Q-Tip’s own “Dirty Laundry” basically loops a full minute of “Aurora Spinray,” a quivering instrumental from the early-’70s psychedelic group Syrinx, and destabilizes the rhythm so much that listening to it feels walking across a waterbed.

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These are the kinds of tactile pleasures uknowhatimsayin¿ offers. Brown has never sounded more musical, natural, or locked-in. He reels off quotable lines everywhere; “Henny got me wetter than whale piss/I’mma die for this shit like Elvis” from “Combat” is a particularly rich one, as is, “I ignore a whore like an email from LinkedIn” from “Savage Nomad.” Structurally, at least, he’s a punchline rapper, and from this angle, producing him might not be that different from producing a happy pugilist like Phife Dawg, who similarly wanted to fill whatever small container he was given with the maximum amount of his personality. As he trades bars with Tip over the trilling horn loop on “Combat Zone,” it sounds like Brown has ascended to a sort of hip-hop classicist nirvana, a place where every kick drum lands just-so, every sample clears effortlessly, every loop cuts off exactly where it should.

If there’s anything missing from uknowhatimsayin¿, it’s a sense of mortal stakes, a feeling that this music matters to Brown on a gut level. His best music has always been overwhelmingly personal, and when he declared that he would be the “greatest rapper ever” on XXX’s “30,” the implication was that he might die if he failed. It is an unqualified good thing that he is not rapping about suicidal thoughts, depression, isolation, and drug abuse anymore, but whatever else is in his head is missing. There is no moment where Brown grabs your lapels and demands you to feel what he’s feeling, whatever it may be. He has called uknowhatimsayin¿ his “standup comedy album,” and the mastery on display is that of the comic going out there and killing. But the best-loved and most enduring comedians left their own blood out on the stage, too.


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