New Music Reviews: Kendrick Lamar, FKA Twigs, and The Reds, Pinks & Purples

This week it’s new releases from rap superstar Kendrick Lamar, the jangle-pop band The Reds, Pinks & Purples, and Gloucestershire’s FKA Twigs.

Kendrick Lamar

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

2022, 8/10
Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar has enjoyed a stellar career so far. With his critical acclaim, a string of #1 albums, and a Nobel Prize in Literature, Lamar’s one of the most significant musical artists to emerge in the 21st century. He’s had an unusually long break between albums – his previous record, Damn, was released in 2017. Mr. Morale is a fascinating return from Lamar – he’s still at the peak of his artistic powers, but many of the songs here are like music as therapy.

Lamar’s voice, smooth yet barbed, is charismatic. He’s supported by backing musicians like bassist Thundercat also guested on Lamar’s landmark To Pimp A Butterfly, while pianist Duval Timothy also appears. There’s also a diverse range of guest vocalists, including Florence Welch (via a sample), Ghostface Killah, and Portishead’s Beth Gibbons.

If you wanted to write a Master’s thesis unpacking the lyrics of a popular album, Mr. Morale would be a great candidate – Lamar covers a lot of territory over these eighteen tracks. It’s uncomfortable listening at times – most notably the dysfunctional couple of ‘We Cry Together’ and the cheating confessions on ‘Worldwide Steppers’. Lamar’s not necessarily aiming for provocation, but revealing his inmost thoughts on tracks like ‘Auntie Diaries’ can be offsetting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VAkjYFESHc

Sometimes the personal content overshadows the music, but there are enough great musical moments to carry the record. The faith manifesto of ‘Purple Hearts’ is a terrific closer to the first disc – there’s a great intro with a jazzy beat, taken from The S.O.S. Band’s ‘Weekend Girl’, while Summer Walker’s backing vocals are beautiful. Mr. Morale would be a tough listen if it didn’t end on a more hopeful note; ‘Mother I Sober’, with Beth Gibbons, is the most intimate track, while ‘Mirror’ has the great refrain “I chose me, I’m sorry”.

Kendrick Lamar is indisputably one of the key artists in 21st-century music so far. Even the slightly drawn-out Mr. Morale has its share of great moments.


The Reds, Pinks & Purples

Summer at Land’s End

2022, 7.5/10
Glenn Donaldson is a veteran musician who came through the 1980s California punk scene. He’s worked his way through a bunch of musical projects; PopMatters describes them as “the lo-fi folk of the Jewelled Antler collective, the breezy psychedelia of the Skygreen Leopards, the tuneful post-punk of the Art Museums”. Now in his fifties, Donaldson’s achieving the highest sales of his career with The Reds, Pinks & Purples. Donaldson is a fan of The Jam, Leonard Cohen, and Lana Del Rey, but the key influence for The Reds, Pinks & Purples is The Smiths – their warm jangle was influential on Donaldson as a teenager.

Along with the band’s previous record, Uncommon Weather, Summer at Land’s End was written during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. Donaldson wrote 75 songs during this period and has enough material for another two albums. Summer at Land’s End recalls the tuneful jangle of The Pernice Brothers, as well as the smoother moments of Antipodean bands like The Chills and The Go-Betweens. Donaldson has a flair for instrumentals – in particular, ‘Dahlias and Rain’ is one of my favourite songs on the record. The songs can be a little samey, but Donaldson’s found a lovely sound. The cascading arpeggios of ‘Pour The Light In’ are gorgeous, pairing with Donaldson’s whispery yet husky voice. The lilting jangle of ‘Let’s Pretend We’re Not In Love’ is another highlight.

It’s nothing revolutionary or challenging, but Summer at Land’s End is tuneful and comforting.


FKA Twigs

Caprisongs

2022, 6.5/10
FKA Twigs was born in Gloucestershire to a Jamaican father and English/Spanish mother. She’s followed her serious 2019 art-pop record Magdalene with a more playful project. Caprisongs is a mix tape rather than a fully-fledged album, loaded with guest stars and dipping more into pop, hip hop, and R&B. Her main collaborator is El Guincho, known for his work on Rosalía’s El Mal Querer.

Some of these songs feel insubstantial, FKA Twigs letting us look into her creative process, while the skits provide insight into her personality. Her skittery vocals are effective in the opening ‘Ride the Dragon’, while Pa Salieu provides an excellent guest rap on ‘Honda’. FKA Twigs is strong on the low key tracks like ‘Oh My Love’ and ‘Meta Angel’.

Caprisongs has its playful charms but often feels a little insubstantial.

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8 Comments

  1. The Reds, Pinks & Purples song is great. You could pretty much guess I would like that one. The sound of what I guess is a twelve string is on the mark.

    • Yup, it’s amazingly vulnerable for sure – like someone committing their innermost thoughts for the world to hear.

      • I haven’t heard it in full (yet), but apparently it’s on a far, far more impressive level than, say, an Alanis or Taylor “here’s my diary” sort of level. More of an “absolutely brilliantly capture the zeitgeist” level.

  2. While Kendrick Lamar and FKA Twigs probably are too far outside my core wheelhouse, The Reds, Pinks & Purples sound really intriguing. “Let’s Pretend We’re Not in Love” and “Pour the Light In” definitely want me to hear more of that album.

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