Review Explosion: Prince, Bleachers, Darkside, Yves Tumor, Abstract Mindstate

(Review Explosion is a recurring AnalogPlanet feature covering recent releases for which we either don't have sufficient time to fully explore, or that are not worthy of it. Curated by AnalogPlanet contributing editor Malachi Lui, Review Explosion focuses on the previous few months' new releases and reissues.)

Prince - Welcome 2 America

NPG/Legacy Recordings stream (CD and 2LP configurations available)

Produced by: Prince
Engineered by: Jason Agel
Mixed by: Jason Agel
Mastered by: Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering

Music: 7
Sound: 8

The latest in NPG/Legacy’s onslaught of archival Prince releases, Welcome 2 America is the first proper, Prince-completed posthumous album product. Recorded in 2010 with bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, drummer Chris Coleman, and keyboardist Morris Hayes, Welcome 2 America is essentially a jam session structured into an LP. Marketed as a socially conscious “protest” album, it’s a typical late-career Prince record; the Hendrix-esque “Check The Record” and neo-soul ballad “When She Comes” play to Prince’s strengths, though the overtly political tracks are more like recited laundry lists of America’s problems: systemic racism, taxes, technological distraction, evil A&R people, modern music’s apparent disposability, and how “everybody and they mama got a sex tape.” The musicianship is top notch, though in favor of his female backing singers Prince’s vocal presence is sometimes diminished. Even though Welcome 2 America is far from his best work, it proves that B-tier Prince is still better than most artists’ A-tier work.

I didn’t buy the physical edition (there are CD, 2LP, and 2LP+CD+Blu-ray packages), though the digital stream mastered by Bernie Grundman is dynamic, well-balanced, and even at high volumes doesn’t fatigue. Fans should still consider the ethical issue of buying posthumous Prince releases, though; he clearly didn’t want this out there, especially not for record label profit (in the era of three major labels controlling a vast majority of recordings, the title track’s “dismantle all monopolies” line feels particularly relevant).

Bleachers - Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night

RCA Records stream (LP and CD variants available)

Produced by: Jack Antonoff, Patrik Berger, and Annie Clark
Engineered by: Laura Sisk and John Rooney
Mixed by: Jack Antonoff, Laura Sisk, and Mark “Spike” Stent
Mastered by: Chris Gehringer at Sterling Sound

Music: 6
Sound: 8

When he’s not producing for others (among them Taylor Swift, Lorde, Clairo, and Lana Del Rey), Jack Antonoff records his own music as Bleachers. The project’s third album, July’s Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night, combines the anthemic hooks and bedroom messiness of the first two Bleachers records for Antonoff’s shortest, most cohesive solo work. While Bleachers’ Springsteen replications aren’t for everyone (this album’s “Chinatown” even features the Boss himself), despite being far from joyful, listening to Take The Sadness is endlessly pleasant. It’s nothing particularly profound; Antonoff’s big 80s choruses and obsession for reverb and slapback echo isn’t unique, but the melancholic, longing vibe of Bleachers reasonably draws passionate fans. Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night won’t appeal to those who don’t like the first two Bleachers LPs, but it successfully continues the sound that Jack Antonoff has refined better than most.

Darkside - Spiral

Other People/Matador stream (2LP variants and CD available)

Produced by: Darkside
Engineered by: Darkside
Mixed by: Rashad Becker
Mastered by: Heba Kadry

Music: 5
Sound: 8

Eight years after their 2013 debut LP Psychic, Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington reunited for a new Darkside album, Spiral. While Psychic expertly weaved both musicians’ styles into hypnotic, sophisticated compositions, Spiral falls flat, continuing Jaar’s string of projects with increasingly diminishing returns. Save for “The Limit” and “Liberty Bell,” its vast nature-evoking soundscapes hide the bland repurposing of Psychic’s then-unique structural tricks. While nicely atmospheric and extremely well-mixed, Spiral’s songs are near-indistinguishable piles of hollow, instantly forgettable sounds. Ever-prolific, Jaar hasn’t dropped an excellent record since 2018; his past few releases suggest a break could help.

Yves Tumor - The Asymptotical World

Warp Records stream (12” vinyl and 3x7” box set shipping in October)

Produced by: Yves Tumor, Yves Rothman, and Chris Greatti
Engineered by: Uncredited
Mixed by: Collin Dupuis
Mastered by: Emily Lazar and Chris Allgood at The Lodge

Music: 6
Sound: 7

Their first release since last year’s carefully constructed art rock effort Heaven To A Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor’s new EP The Asymptotical World veers away from experimentation in favor of accessible post-punk-inflected glam rock. Clocking in at 18 minutes, The Asymptotical World’s six tracks aren’t exactly conventional, but this EP lacks their previous records’ memorable artsiness and brilliantly abstract futurism. Hopefully this immensely underwhelming EP is nothing more than a batch of new songs to tour with; if Heaven To A Tortured Mind was a meticulous sonic painting, then The Asymptotical World is designer wallpaper.

Abstract Mindstate - Dreams Still Inspire

YZY SND stream (no physicals announced)

Produced by: Kanye West
Engineered by: Uncredited
Mixed by: Uncredited
Mastered by: Uncredited

Music: 6
Sound: 6

On August 6, Kanye West released an album on time and finished—holy shit, it actually happened! Of course, it wasn’t his own long-awaited DONDA. Amidst last year’s contractual battles with Universal Music Group, Kanye founded his own label/production company, YZY SND (Yeezy Sound), whose first release is Abstract Mindstate’s Kanye-produced Dreams Still Inspire.

The album’s press cycle hammered Abstract Mindstate’s story into listeners’ minds. In short, the duo of rappers Olskool Ice-Gre (Greg Lewis) and E.P. Da Hellcat (Ebony Poetess) released an album in 2001, but the record wasn’t properly promoted, and from a last-minute lack of funding they shelved their 2005 follow-up. Lewis worked as an A&R for Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music label (a subsidiary of Def Jam/UMG), while Poetess went to school for a behavioral health certification. During Kanye’s 2018 “Wyoming sessions,” he reunited the duo for Dreams Still Inspire, an album he wholly produced himself. The record’s lyrically clever and sonically soulful single “A Wise Tale” further bolstered the hype, but the full LP is unmemorable. Even at 31 minutes, listening through Dreams Still Inspire’s 14 tracks is a chore; for every decent “old Kanye” beat, there’s a slew of unimpressive lyrical moments (i.e. the exhausting “social media is so fake” rants of “Social Media”). Overall, Dreams Still Inspire feels like a victory lap for an act that six months ago was unknown to most listeners.

St. Vincent - Daddy’s Home

Loma Vista Recordings/Concord stream (LP variants and CD available)

Produced by: Annie Clark and Jack Antonoff
Engineered by: Laura Sisk and Peter Labberton
Mixed by: Cian Riordan
Mastered by: Chris Gehringer at Sterling Sound

Music: 5
Sound: 8

Four years after her last proper album Masseduction, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) returns with a Jack Antonoff-produced follow-up, Daddy’s Home. Partially centered around her father’s release from prison (for $43 million stock fraud), Daddy’s Home finds Clark highlighting her weaknesses. She’s not a great lyricist, but her flashy guitar playing and ear for production previously masked that; here, she sings boring melodies over Antonoff’s beige 70s lounge-y soft rock backgrounds. The empty lyrics list details about Clark’s youth that few fans care about, and there are almost no retainable hooks. Daddy’s Home shows an artist with nothing to say backed by a producer on autopilot, making a record devoid of anything interesting to hide her artistic faults.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, art enthusiast, and avid record collector. Follow him on Twitter: @MalachiLui and Instagram: @malachi__lui)

Anton D's picture

Thanks for the newest review explosion!

I know three of these:

1) Prince. I would rate one point higher than you for music. The title track is a nice update of vintage Gil Scott-Heron. Give ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ a new listen, then jump back to the Prince album. I like the vibe on this new Prince release, so I will give it an 8 to your 7, agree on the sound.

2) Bleachers. I love the guy, he is great live. He is one of those artists that you still hear as ‘live’ after seeing him, even on new material. I think that biases me to like his records a touch more. I’ll go 7 to your 6, but will rate sound one point lower…I found it a tad compressed.

3) St Vincent!!!! This is the least interesting record of hers, to me. So I will not quibble with the rating!

I’ll check out the other records you mention.

Thank you, as always. I appreciate your over-all positive energy for our hobby!

Anderson Monopoly's picture

Music - 7,6,5,6,6,and 5. Seems to be reviews of the mediocre. Doesn't peak any interest. Why bother?

MalachiLui's picture

first and foremost, a 7/10 is NOT a mediocre score. it actually means it's good!!!

and just because something's not very good, doesn't mean it's not worth reviewing. in my opinion, most albums have at least some characteristic that makes them worth reviewing.

Anderson Monopoly's picture

My mistake malachiLui. 1 good album and the rest are mediocre. With so many records constantly being released why not focus more on sharing what are 'in your opinion' good, really good or outstanding albums. There are many great artists releasing all kinds of musical explorations that many, if not most, have not heard. Why not try turning others on to something they haven't heard before. Popularity of artists often has little to do with their contributions or talents. I appreciate your youth and suggest expanding your musical horizons.

MalachiLui's picture

a 6/10 isn't necessarily mediocre. it denotes something that's at least slightly above average and possibly quite enjoyable but not unique enough to get a higher rating (this bleachers album fits that latter criteria).

and music criticism isn't about only pointing out what's good, it's about looking at as many releases as possible and assessing both the good, bad, and mediocre. criticism has to be critical at times!!!

also, suggesting i "expand my musical horizons" is unnecessary... i've reviewed many records of many genres and eras. i think those "musical horizons" have expanded more than sufficiently wide, don't ya think?

Anderson Monopoly's picture

Hey Malichlui. To find the diamonds one has to shovel through a whole lot of s#@!. Who cares if Malachilui thinks an album is crap? A low rating doesn't have any end result other than saying 'don't waste your time on this'. Pop music is pablum for the masses and not confined to any specific genre and/or era. There is more out there than you know. Not your fault, it just takes time. As for sufficiently, sufficient for what? You have been given a unique opportunity. Keep listening and search deeper.

PeterPani's picture

somebody has also listen to the lows. Malachi is in a lively discussion with the music he is listening. I appreciate that very much. I also like very much his ethical position (regarding the Prince record). So, it is nice to read his thougths on the good and the bad. I love his idealism to dig into music to learn for life.

Anton D's picture

Here you are now, entertain you!