Kendrick Lamar, untitled, unmastered
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: untitled, unmastered
Label: Top Dawg
Verdict: Auckland City Limits headliner offers offcuts most rappers would die for
Of course it's great. We're talking about Kendrick Lamar here, an artist who's not just the the Best Rapper Alive, but quite possibly the most creative person working in music today.
The only question surrounding his surprise album, one that dropped Beyonce-style last weekend thanks to a tweet by LeBron James, is just how great it is.
The answer? It's pretty damned great. If last year's To Pimp A Butterfly was a sprawling classic that everyone's still playing catch-up with, then untitled, unmastered is its low-key punctuation point, one that lacks precision but makes up for it by cramming in so many ideas most rappers would kill for just a handful of them.
Arriving with little fanfare, a bland album title and cover, and no names for its eight songs, it manages both to deflate, then exceed expectations. It also proves Lamar's still running on a Butterfly-fuelled hot streak that is showing no sign of ending.
Who else could get away with the prog-jazz-rap breakdown on Untitled 05? Lamar's bonkers rap style and call of "Get God on the phone" on the trumpet loops of Untitled 02? The Cee-Lo-guested bossa nova singalong on Untitled 06 that sounds like Outkast on a very, very good day? Or the eight-minute squelch of Untitled 07 that ends with Lamar proclaiming: "Forecasted my future / This is the future / The mastermind until my next album / More power to you?"
That track ends with an all-in studio singalong led by Lamar, hinting at a sense of humour unseen on previous releases. And some of these songs you might have seen before: Lamar played the album's most straightforward song Untitled 03 on The Colbert Show way back in 2014, while the G-funk lope of Untitled 08 was unveiled on The Tonight Show in January.
Despite its freeform flow, its rough and ready appearance and its funkier, fresher feel, these aren't simple Butterfly studio outtakes.
All were at some time considered for inclusion on that album, making this a true companion piece, unhindered by the expectations surrounding Lamar's next album proper. Perhaps untitled, unmastered's real title is this: Warning: Genius at work.
- Chris Schulz
Lapsley, Long Way Home
Album: Long Way Home
Label: XL Recordings
Verdict: An intriguing debut of electro-ballads.
She's A bit of a curious one, this 19-year old Holly Lapsley Fletcher. A recent signing to XL Recordings, she's added a ring to the "a" in her middle name to create a stage name that gives a Scandinavian impression, even though she's actually from Merseyside. And she'd only chucked her music up on Bandcamp so some family in the US could listen to it, before record labels suddenly came knocking - her real dream was to work for National Geographic.
Clearly an accomplished bedroom producer, as well as having vocal abilities which have had her compared to Adele, and Jessie Ware, you can expect to hear more from the forthright youngster.
There's something slightly cooler about Lapsley's work compared to Ware or Adele, and her debut album of electronic balladry has the occasional bland bit. But there are some fresh, engaging tracks that mark her as an interesting genre-crossing talent. Painter has an ethereal sort of resonance, and though the lyrics are obscured, there's a genuine tenderness to the track. Tell Me The Truth is a highlight, its jazz influenced RnB and hip-hop tones creating a modern groove that showcases her voice inventively. Love is Blind has a great unabashed melodramatic 80s pop sound, that reminds of The Eurythmics, and though the electro dog-woof percussion elements in Station feel a touch gimmicky at first, it reveals itself to have some cool vocal interplay.
- Lydia Jenkin
Miike Snow, III
Artist: Miike Snow
Verdict: Pop trio deserve to be a bigger deal
Miike who? That's the response of most people when asked if they've heard of this Swedish trio, the former pop manipulators for the likes of Britney Spears and Madonna. That deserves to change with iii, Miike Snow's third album, which takes their screwy-summery-pop-with-a-dark-side to new extremes. "I get a little bit Genghis Khan / Don't want you to get it on / With no one else but me," sings Andrew Wyatt on Genghis Khan, an upbeat love song with a hook based on the Mongolian leader.
That trend continues on Trigger, which has Wyatt shrilling lines like, "I'm in the graveyard ... pull my trigger," over earworm candy Passion Pit would be proud of. There are big moments elsewhere too: Heart is Full has warped vocals, a 60s soul sample and hip-hop drums, while Over and Over's guitars sound designed for a stadium setting. And on the clanging For U, they show their roots and invite pop upsetter Charli XCX in to help out. Sure, the sexual innuendo of a song like Back of the Car might be a bigger hit when sung by Rihanna or Katy Perry. But for those in the know, Miike Snow remain an undiscovered gem.
- Chris Schulz