John Legend - Darkness and Light

You can't match the smoothness of John Legend. He's a pop king, as it stands. His new album Darkness and Light is a furthering of his pop sensibility and his swagger.

John Legend has five albums under his belt now, and Darkness and Light is the pinnacle of his smoothness. It's full of sweet textures and driven instrumentals that really bring his character to life. It's kicked off by 'I Know Better,' introducing the record with Legend's rich timbre and a soulful instrumental. The piano bursts strongly above the organ keyboard, enriching the song's sonic nature. Other songs really capture the sweetness the record wants to exude: 'Overload' with Miguel is very sincere, background harmonies supporting the soothing story of the track, and 'Penthouse Floor' with Chance The Rapper bringing some funk and combining it with the sweetness of the other tracks.

There's some variation in the album, though. It's not all about being smooth. Pulsating bass kicks up the momentum with 'What You Do To Me,' Legend's swaying vocal line really complimenting the background orchestra. The record comes with bluesy tones, too, 'Right By You (For Luna)' calmly starting before its mysterious textures really come to the light. 'Same Old Story' has the composition of a Bon Iver track, glitching pianos resonating before a vocoder starts distorting the vocals in a blissful manner. The title track 'Darkness and Light' gives a darker aesthetic to the album's initial soundscape, too, Alabama ShakesBrittany Howard bringing a southern, sensual rock twang to the track.

The album is rooting in sweet love. There are several songs that make the most out of their sweetness - 'Surefire' is the pinnacle of it all, combining the best of the record into one fantastically pure track. It's all in the smoothly progressing guitar and bass, carrying the song in a very sweet and peaceful way as John Legend sings introspectively and with want, strings providing a little extra punch to it.

John Legend is a popstar in the most lowkey of ways. His music is huge as a result of how raw his messages are. It's all about love when it's coming from him - Darkness and Light sees the highs and lows of it, relating to everyone in someway. It plays through with few moments of energy, but its emotion stays strong throughout.

Favorite Tracks: Surefire, Darkness and Light, What You Do To Me

Least Favorite Track: Marching Into The Dark

Rating: 72 / 100

Lambchop - FLOTUS

Indie is fun and weird. It's rare to find an example of something that pushes the limits of the genre. We have an example of such with Lambchop's new album FLOTUS, but keep in mind that pushing the limits does not guarantee quality. 

FLOTUS has a very specific core to it that it doesn't like to tread away from. It lives off of minimalistic folky beats, which are sometimes backed by fairly groovy basslines. Core member Kurt Wagner handles vocals, using a vocoder for nearly all of the record. There's really only one song that doesn't have this formula: opener 'In Care Of 8675309,' which really rings with a more indie flair than an experimental one. Sweet, light guitar leads the track in as a light drum beat follows it with a bright bassline supporting it behind. The vocoder is only half of the vocal as opposed to all of it, which is nice, too. It's eleven minutes long, but it has a lot of groove to it that supports it throughout its play time.

Unlike much of the rest of the record, 'In Care Of' is actually an interesting song. The rest of the album feels like a cheap knockoff of Bon Iver's brilliant release 22, A Million. It lacks the brilliance of that records minimalism and tries to find integrity within the vocoders in the same fashion as Bon Iver, but fails to hit that point. Perhaps having not listened to 22 would have helped the quality of this record, but with that context, it feels weak.

Title track 'Flotus' is a prime example of the two's similarities. It's a sweeter track that has substance to it, but still feels like it came right out of the Bon Iver record. 'JFK' follows it through, really trying to sell the vocoder influence - listen to the lyrics, because there is not way this song had any other purpose than to make the vocoder prominent.

Another flaw with the record is its pacing. After the initial high of 'In Care Of,' you're left with a bunch of weird tracks with synthesized vocals and robotic beats that try to be profound. You find some negotiable parts to pique your interest - the bassline of 'Relatives #2' in the center of the record, for example. But you feel like you're waiting for something more for the entire record. Two singles are tacked onto the back of the record. The first is 'NIV,' a sweet song that falls victim to the fact the the album has the momentum of a snail. It functions a lot better as a standalone sog - the video for it is very profound. The lead single 'The Hustle' concludes the record, and there's a slew of problems with that. For one, why would you release an eighteen minute track as a single? Also, why would you release a track with virtually no substance as a single? There's the standard first half, then the electronic second half that concludes with a nice piano part. It's not awful, but eighteen minutes is certainly unwarranted.

Lambchop fell victim to trying to adjust to fit a new standard too hard. If you're looking for an album like this, stick with Bon Iver. FLOTUS is a largely boring and disappointing record that starts promising but just doesn't find momentum or a solid footing anywhere.

Favorite Track: In Care Of 8675309 (The music video for 'NIV' deserves a shoutout, too)

Least Favorite Tracks: JFK, The Hustle, Writer

Rating: 49 / 100