Alicia Keys - HERE

Alicia Keys has built a strong presence around herself throughout her career. With that power, her sixth album HERE has a strong message it tries to convey.

Alicia's the queen of R&B as it stands. Her voice has a perfect balance of smoothness and grit that she uses to cover a lot of ground vocally. The album begins in a way such that her diversity and message is made clear. She takes things back down to the south with 'This Gospel,' setting a regional tone for the record. The song starts softly before quickly building up confidently with the same flow you'd find from Hamilton. The gospel moments on the track don't feel like enough to suggest the title be dedicated to them, but they're there in the bridge. New Orleans jazz is channeled in 'Pawn It All,' the groovy instrumental carrying it through.

'Illusion Of Bliss' is the bridge between pop and culture on the record. Right at the core of the record, the song is sandwiched between the bayou-inspired section and the poppier side, and contains elements of both. The song features a bluesy vibe that you'd hear at a late night club somewhere in New Orleans. The organs funkily vibe underneath Keys' almost tortured vocals and the male background vocals. It's a slowburner, the slow and spacious drum beat carrying the song through its torture. The beat dies out by the end of the song as a clean and pretty bassline and pounding pianos carry the track under Keys' cries of "Don't say I'm gone / I don't want to be a fallen angel."

The acoustic moments provide some rawness on the record. One of these tracks is 'Kill Your Mama' which is solely acoustic. Keys sings powerfully atop a lo-fi acoustic guitar which rings out with raw, folky vibes. 'Blended Family (What You Do For Love)' beings acoustically, but eventually progresses into a poppier track, the likes of A$AP Rocky contributing a verse to the track. The acoustic guitar leads into Keys cleaner voice, bass and a pop beat kicking in to drive the track sweetly as she sings about love having no boundaries.

The album's highs are great, but unfortunately they are overshadowed by lows. The worst part of the record are that more than a quarter of its tracks are short, boring, and just plain cringey interludes. The first track, 'The Beginning,' sounds incredibly pretentious and when 'Elaine Brown,' the second interlude to appear, kicks in, you've already had enough. Much of the second half of the record is just plain boring and unmemorable. The first half feels much more inspired and like it has something to say. The other half is just regularly performed pop songs with no merit to them to maintain interest. There are some questionable moments on plenty of tracks, too: the xylophone solo in 'She Don't Really Care_1 Luv' is cool, but the male vocals are pretty weird, dragging the song down a bit.

Alicia Keys made a pretty big statement... for half of a record. HERE is grounded in her roots to start but eventually devolves into a mess of uninspired pop tracks that try to imitate what the start of the album had. It felt like a big risk but ultimately took the safe route. Keys is at the point of her career where she really can do whatever she wants - the pop side of the album was fully unnecessary and brought the quality far, far down. Without risk, there isn't any reward - HERE hit the sad 50/50.

Favorite Tracks: Illusion Of Bliss, Kill Your Mama, Blended Family (What You Do For Love)

Least Favorite Tracks: Interludes, Work On It, Girl Can't Be Herself

Rating: 50 / 100 

Clams Casino - 32 Levels

Producer Clams Casino, known for tackling music with a bunch of big names such as FKA twigs and A$AP Rocky, has released his debut LP 32 Levels. The record features a wide array of artists from several genres, and combines elements of both hip-hop and electronica into one collection of songs.

There's two clear halves to this record. The first half is a very hip-hop centric collection of songs, while the second half takes a poppier route. Clams Casino produces beats and instrumentals for the tracks - and those are always spot on. The problem, however, lies with the features.

The first half of the record is very much hit-or-miss. Instrumentals are never the problem. There are some okay tracks like 'Be Somebody' featuring A$AP Rocky and Lil B, with a great instrumental but lyrics that just feel like one big name drop (with no real point of doing so) and 'All Nite' with Vince Staples which has a strong message but a horrible delivery. Then there's songs that have absolutely nothing interesting going for them - 'Witness' is just plain trash, while the next two tracks are just completely forgettable. The hip-hop half falls into the trap of becoming way too self-obsessed and sits itself on a high horse, perhaps the fault of the features. The lack of variation and climax makes it come and go, as if it never happened.

The poppier half has a more agreeable composure. Lots of strong voices bring a more refreshing palette to the album, a good contrast from the monotonous hip-hop side. Mikky Ekko sounds huge on 'Into The Fire', finally giving the album some feeling of exposition nearly three-fourths of the way into it. The same goes for 'Back To You' with Kelly Zutrau, the only song on the record that has some excitement to it with the build in its second chorus. Kelela features on 'A Breath Away', the song featuring Indian percussion that really adds a nice color to the record. Sadly, the second half has more going against it than it does for it (though, it has more to brag about that the earlier part of the album). Same Dew's track 'Thanks To You' starts promising but gets really repetitive with its slowly punching in-and-out synth instrumental, the slow and glitchy track not going anywhere for its three minute run, making the entire track blur together. 'Ghost In A Kiss' is some odd ASMR fusion with hip-hop, and it just doesn't go down well under any circumstance. The last track lacks any finality to the album, leaving it on a down note, as is the case with much of this record. There's no climax found anywhere in any track. Light choruses and slow verses rule this record, and there's nothing within them to show for.

Clams Casino produced some fantastic instrumentals, but failed to bring those anywhere of worth. This album fails to have a big defining moment and feels like background noise for much of it. A single track on this record has any sense of excitement in it. If you're looking for something to put on the background as to not pay attention to it, this is the one, because nothing will go on during it. Perhaps he should stick to getting his production credits.

Favorite Track: Back To You

Least Favorite Tracks: Blast, Witness, Ghost In A Kiss

Rating: 56 / 100