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Album review

Troye Sivan Offers Voice to a Generation on Blue Neighbourhood

Music ReviewSean McHughComment
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The YouTube Generation may have finally found its voice, and thank goodness it’s not PewDiePie. Enter Troye Sivan – the twenty-year-old singer/songwriter/actor – who has been in the hearts and minds of millions of YouTube subscribers ever since he came out as gay in an incredibly heartfelt video in 2013.

Fully disclosed and unfettered from public speculation, Sivan released two critically acclaimed and chart topping EPs, Wild andTRXYE. Thanks in large part to the success of the two EPs as well as social bumps from the likes of Taylor Swift (“GO @troyesivan WILD IS STUNNING AND AWESOME…”), Adele (On Sivan covering “Hello” – “I burst into tears”), and Sam Smith (Sivan’s cool timbre “Does things to [his] body.”), Sivan dropped his first full-length release, Blue Neighbourhood, on December 4th, through EMI Music Australia and Capitol.  

Blue Neighbourhood opens with an eponymous carryover from Sivan’s second EP, WILD. A heavy-hitting single masquerading as a leadoff track, “WILD” sounds reminiscent of a Lorde B-side, but with a more vivacious outlook – “Kissing up on fences and up on walls / On the way home / I guess its all working now…” Sivan’s unwrinkled vocals are a product of the upcoming generation of pop stars – minimally touched vocals, surrounded by airtight production allowing for more focus on overall tone versus individual tracks.

“WILD” also kicks off Sivan’s three part music video narrative of the relationship between two young boys as they experience tragedy, discovery, lust, loss, and melancholy throughout their lives. Second track on the album (and video number two), “FOOLS,” is yet another WILD EP holdover, though arguably the strongest of the three older tracks. “FOOLS,” expresses a traumatic realization of falling hard in a relationship, as well as a parallel to Sivan’s newfound fame “I need time to replace what I gave away / My hopes they are high / I must keep them small.”

Blue Neighbourhood is a different sort of debut than that of Sivan’s other pop counterparts. His coming out video in 2013 allowed for his debut to not be overanalyzed with focus on subject matter and who or what certain songs may be addressing. Instead, it allows for Sivan to comment directly and honestly on subjects that concern him the most, such as “HEAVEN,” featuring Betty Who. The track is one of the more ballad-leaning songs on Blue Neighbourhood, which allows it to operate as the true core of the record. It connects to the fundamental struggles of Sivan’s generation, fear of not attaining certain levels of acclaim, success, fulfillment, happiness, etc. In short, it asserts that everyone has enters their own “Blue Neighbourhood” at one point or another. What is a “Blue Neighbourhood” exactly? Sivan never really quite explains, but the YouTube generation anthem assuages any anxiety that his peers may succumb to.

In short, Blue Neighbourhood, is certainly a successful debut (it hopped to No. 1 on iTunes following the launch of its pre-order), but it still runs into pitfalls of exhibiting the extent of his vulnerability in sex on “BITE” and the struggle for normalcy while juggling fame on the predictably named “COOL,” but overall, Sivan shows that he holds more promise than other pop artists with a command of his narrative and voice. While Blue Neighbourhood is solid, and being propelled by millions of young Sivanians (perhaps a bit of a stretch), there is still room for Sivan to expand upon his narratives and mature as an artist and songwriter. 

Freddie Gibbs Brings His Name Into the Limelight on 'Shadow of Doubt'

Music ReviewSean McHughComment

Not even a year removed from joining forces with 808 doyen Madlib to create one of 2014’s best collaborative efforts, Piñata, rapper Freddie Gibbs has found time to drop two EPs and his most recent full length effort, Shadow of Doubt. One of the more underrated and tireless lyricists on the circuit today, the Gary, Indiana native son has done nothing but further amalgamate his legacy as rap’s most unheralded hero.

Shadow of Doubt is a far cry from the dynamic duet that was Piñata, with Gibbs exchanging Madlib’s singular break beats and samples for multi-producer packaging, spanning the hip-hop spectrum. In turn, the variety allows Gibbs to flex his lyrical musings in an array of fashions – some brimming with machismo (“Forever and a Day”), salty dog syndrome (“Freddie Gordy”), and a possibly self-narrating jilted lover opining over past oblivion (“Careless”). The frenetic emotional energy asserts Gibbs’ ability to separate Shadow of Doubt from any past bodies of work, further cementing the underestimated prowess of his flow.

Gibbs has for some time now been considered one of the more hawkish of his rap compatriots – at times more brute lyrical force than emotional finesse - with such a precedent being torn down by one of Shadow of Doubt’s most powerful tracks, “Insecurities.” Disarming self-awareness laced with an almost regretful tone – “I was ready for whatever, man / I remember I was selling things / I let it go” - allows for Gibbs to present an offertory that is almost unbecoming, had it not been masterfully paced by Gibbs’ classic cadence. 

Another highlight of Shadow of Doubt is the Gibbs’ choice of collaborators. He calls upon his rap contemporaries; take “10 Times,” a more modern approach to hip-hop, ranging from the hazy mediations from Gucci to flipping the of the script to Bay Area legend E-40, who offers one of the more humorous non-Gibb verses on Shadow of Doubt: “Lifestyle, ribbit, ribbit / That’s what I’m going to use when I stick it / She bad, she fat / She gon’ get a ticket / Thicker than a buttermilk biscuit…”

Laughable lyricism aside, Gibbs’ choice to feature grizzled veterans of the game allow not only for the guest MCs to shine, but help heighten Gibbs’ tonal dexterity. “Extradite,” perhaps the album’s strongest feature track, presents Gibbs commenting on the peculiar state of rap and hip-hop, at times jeering at his younger peers’ inability to remain relevant as long as someone of his own caliber. The feature verse, deftly performed by Black Thought of The Roots fame, is the album’s most politically fused, with commentary on recent race tensions and the like, all being juxtaposed by a smooth jazz beat.

Shadow of Doubt is a record that is unlikely to shift cultural dialogue or work its way into the zeitgeist, but that has never been Gibbs’ intentions. Shadow of Doubt acts simply, a rap manifesto of MC’s continual challenges to the rap game, with little to no pushback. If rap has become more emotionally deft, then it has abandoned one of its core principals – lyrical thought to shift the perspective of those who will listen. Modern rap can at times be vapid and sensitive, but not for Gibbs. Shadow of Doubt is an assertion that Gibbs is the only true aggressor who remains in the game.