Review: XXXTentacion - Skins

Underneath it all, the posthumous album from the Florida rapper is woefully aimless and structurally unsound.

At the center of the Jahseh Onfroy story is his domestic violence case, which was never tried but, after his death, is now closed. Before he was shot and killed in an attempted robbery earlier this year, the 20-year-old rapper known as XXXTentacion was accused of physically and mentally abusing his then-girlfriend, terrorizing her, and holding her against her will. He faced charges that included aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering. According to arrest reports, the victim was punched to the point where her eyes were forced shut.

The charges raised against X didn’t prevent him from becoming one of rap’s most popular new stars, and his death only complicates the conversations surrounding the music of an incredibly polarizing figure. In the aftermath, questions are raised about its lasting impact and how his murder at the age of 20 might change the way he is remembered. Will his art be treated as sacrosanct? In an attempt to rehabilitate his image, Onfroy’s mother started a nonprofit called the XXXTentacion Foundation to provide “relief [for] the poor, distressed and of the underprivileged.” It’s difficult to square this sensationalized, supposedly kind-hearted version of Onfroy with the one recorded admitting to stabbing eight people, the one who allegedly had a woman “scared for her life,” the one who noted, “I will kill that bitch if she play with me.”

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Review: Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra - The Capitol Studio Sessions

Jeff Goldblum’s debut album, a live-in-the-studio ersatz nightclub affair, is a sincere, classy, and competent homage to the golden age of vocal jazz.

Jeff Goldblum has located fame’s sweet spot. The man veers happily between being a star in lucrative Hollywood franchises and a sort of sentient, benevolent meme. Every sensible person should aspire to this precise degree of celebrity: Goldblum is rich enough not to have to worry about money again, yet he can still wander into a Trader Joe’s without a security detail. He is curiously beloved, but not so beloved that he’s at risk of sustaining paparazzi-induced injury. When Goldblum, with his bespectacled good looks, is summoned to BuzzFeed’s video studio to recite tweets from strangers calling him “daddy,” he seems to genuinely enjoy it. That is the dream, isn’t it?

Goldblum also enjoys an offscreen hobby as an accomplished jazz pianist. He has honed this skill since his childhood, long before films like The Big Chill and The Fly made him a regular in America’s VCRs. The Goldblum Fame Quotient seems ideal for indulging a musical side hustle: He can easily land a deal with Decca Records, yet he won’t be suffocated by public scrutiny. For years, the actor and his ensemble, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, have been bringing big-band-era jazz standards to clubs in New York and Los Angeles. The Capitol Studios Sessions is billed as his debut album, but it feels more like a variety-show special, with Goldblum feeding off the energy of a studio audience and exchanging flirty banter with guest vocalists like Haley Reinhart. In truth, it’s both: The album was recorded at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios, which Goldblum converted into an ad hoc jazz club, with a boozed-up crowd of fans who do not address him as “daddy.” So we get the freewheeling spirit of a live album and the pristine mix of a proper studio LP.

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Review: Scott Walker & Sia - Vox Lux OST

If a soundtrack to a troubled movie that features half Sia songs and half Scott Walker compositions sounds at the very least interesting, rest assured, it is not.

“That’s what I love about pop music. I don’t want people to think too hard. I just want them to feel good.” That sentiment is uttered early on in Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux by the film’s protagonist, Celeste, a school-shooting survivor whose moment in the national spotlight turns into a decades-long ascent to pop stardom. It’s an old cliché about pop’s role in society that demands some ideological sharpening, but Corbet’s second feature doesn’t possess half the amount of focus required to develop the well-worn idea into something more insightful and holistic.

As young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives an unbelievable tragedy that’s become all-too-believable while her older self (Natalie Portman) is trapped in a cycle of self-loathing and trauma, Vox Luxattempts to tilt at a few thematic windmills—the American culture of violence, how said culture intersects with pop iconography, the pressure we place on public figures to behave in a way that reflects our own assumed system of belief—without fully committing to any one beat. As a meditation about the daily horror of mass shootings in America and the accidental stardom that can accompany becoming the face of tragedy, it’s purely anachronistic; the assertion that Celeste’s elegiac post-shooting song “Wrapped Up” could go viral in the early 2000s anticipates the normalcy of regular violence and instant fame in a way that betrays the pre-viral time period. As target practice for the target-rich machinations of pop music itself, Vox Luxfeels as forced as Portman’s Staten Island accent.

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Review: MIKE - War in My Pen

Of MIKE’s four projects last year, War in My Pen is the cleanest-sounding, but the New York rapper still prizes a faraway vibe that rewards close listening.

MIKE murmurs more than he flows. The 20-year-old rapper doesn’t mix his vocals high or bury them; he floats, cushioned and suspended, within his music. He has a lot to say, but he doesn’t seem concerned about who hears it. He shares this lack of concern with his friends and compatriots—Medhane, Adé Hakim, Navy Blue, Jazz Jodi, several others. Together, they feel more like a huddle than a movement, a group of introverted, dreamy souls trying to hold on to something intangible that they sense might be pried from them.

Notably, one of those friends is Earl Sweatshirt: “I be with Mike and Med/Nowadays I be with Sage and with Six-press, ya dig?” Earl rapped on “Nowhere2go” from November’s Some Rap Songs. Earl doesn’t appear on War in My Pen, MIKE’s fourth projects of 2018, but MIKE’s name was all over Some Rap Songs, and the style they are developing in tandem feels like one complete thought that requires both of them to express. When the sound is this dreamy, and this murky, you don’t really get clear takeaways, but the dazed solitude and determined quiet of MIKE’s music taps into a general sense that there is entirely too much noise; that raising your voice to match it contributes to madness, and that the only reasonable response is to draw inward.

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Review: Chandra - Transportation EP

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Perhaps familiar from being sampled by the Avalanches, this New York tween was an inspiring underground star in the early 1980s, a reputation confirmed by this archival collection.

When the Avalanches returned in 2016 after an absence of nearly two decades, a sampled koan lurked at the heart of “Subways,” their swooning comeback: “You walk on the subway/It moves around.” The voice belongs to Chandra Oppenheim, a veteran of the New York downtown scene who attended New York Dolls shows, rubbed elbows with Madonna, opened for Laurie Anderson, played the Mudd Club, staged performance art pieces at the Kitchen, and performed with her band on “Captain Kangaroo.” Not bad for a tween: Chandra was just 12 when she and her band of the same name cut “Subways” and three other songs for a now-coveted 1980 EP.

That EP, an unreleased second one, and two four-track demos form this fidgety new reissue, a welcome resurrection since the band hasn’t gotten much notice in the decades of New York comps that have followed. After splintering from late 1970s punk band Model Citizens, Eugenie Diserio and Steve Alexander formed kinetic no wave group The Dance with future Material and Scritti Politti drummer Fred Maher. They also found themselves taken with the young Oppenheim, becoming her backing band and fostering her nascent songwriting. “Chandra would blow us away with her lyrics,” Alexander remembered in an interview with The Guardian. “We were always like, ‘Don’t change a thing.’”

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