-Travis Scott releases a highly satisfying followup to last year’s Rodeo.

I generally try to avoid comparisons in my reviews. I think it’s a cheap way to write about an artist. By just endlessly listing off other artists and attempting to narrow them down into a box, it reveals limited knowledge. All you have is a few reference points. “This is like when Radiohead went from OK Computer to Kid A!” “This psych-pop group sounds like they listen to a lot of The Beatles.” “This New York born boom bap rapper sounds like they listen to a lot of Nas and Wu-Tang.”

Oh really? A New York rapper listens to The Wu-Tang Clan? Please flex your surface level knowledge of said genre some more. (By the way, not saying I’ve never been guilty of this. I’m a horrible reviewer and I know nothing about music.)

But when it comes to Travi$ Scott, comparisons are necessary. He’s a giant melting pot of disparate influences that are worn boldly on his sleeve. Travi$ Scott sounds like a lot of people, but because he sounds like so many people, nobody sounds like Travi$ Scott. Not many rappers or producers combine the swirling synthesizers of a Tame Impala album with the narcotic atmosphere of a Screw Tape. He’s professed his stannery of Kid Cudi, and it shows, in the way he croons with the Auto Tune and also in the way he structures his albums. (T.I.’s narration on Rodeo was not unlike Common’s on Man on the Moon: The End of Day.) Travi$ is at once a Houston swamp rapper, an Atlanta trapper and a talent curating visionary a la Kanye West (who he is very close with). So while I can listen to a Travi$ Scott song and probably guess what he was listening to before he made it, no one else in the game right now nails that oppressively dark, drugged out atmosphere nor combines such varied influences like him.

And Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight steps further towards an even more distinct sound. It sounds less like a combination of other people and more like just Travi$ Scott. His adlibs play a bigger role, (“YAH!” “STRAIGHT UP!” “IT’S LIT!”), and the beats are more streamlined into a signature, consistent sound as opposed to jumping from one big idea to the next, although they are still of course rooted in the Southern Hip-Hop tradition. (Aside from the dancehall of “guidance,” which goes over really well.) Compared to “Rodeo,” (there goes another comparison) it feels less like a big studio album where everyone from Metro Boomin to Kanye West to Future to Chief Keef to fucking Justin Bieber was featured and more personally crafted. Because as much as I adore Rodeo , the main attraction of a lot of those songs was not Travi$ Scott. You were waiting for the features. Of course, there’s still plenty of features here, from Travi$ Scott mainstays Young Thug and Quavo showing up on the big single “pick up the phone,” Kendrick Lamar making an oddball appearance on “goosebumps,” 21 Savage providing a sinister verse for “outside,” Travi$ finally connecting with Cudi (who provides an amazing vocal performance) on “through the late night,” my man The Weeknd doing his thing on the previously released “wonderful,” and Andre 3000 delivering a frantic, haunting verse on the opener.

Still though, it’s less about the features on this album, and more Travi$ Scott focused. If Rodeo was the blockbuster, this is the indie flick with occasional appearances by huge stars.

But the two albums still share a ton of similarities. Namely, the songwriting here is still top-notch. One of the marks of a great album is how quickly you can remember it after first listening, and basically all of these songs were immediately in my head after my first listen. About five listens later and these 14 tracks are ingrained in my head more so than some albums I’ve been listening to for years. They’re that catchy, that distinct from each other, that ear catching. I remember a couple of weeks ago I was with some friends and one of my dudes was just kind of picking and choosing a couple of songs from this album. And they just completely captivated me. Now, some factors to remember:

  1. I was high.
  2. It was over a shitty speaker.
  3. People were talking over the music, so it wasn’t like I was alone, headphones on, in a dark room, completely zoning in it.
  4. Rarely did he let the song play all the way through.

So really, all I was getting were some snippets; some fragments to grab at while I was occupied with other things. Yet, even just the fragments grabbed me. I caught the impeccable building hook of “through the late night,” Kendrick Lamar’s freakish vocal inflections on “goosebumps,” the jumbled paranoia of “way back,” and the 90’s R&B thru lean and no sleep of “first take.” (My favorite song here, Bryson Tiller fucking brings it dude, and the chorus effect on Travi$’s vocals sounds fucking perfect.) This acted as the perfect reminder that I needed to listen to this album as soon as possible, and needless to say it lived up to high expectations those fragments built up. This is one of the best albums of the year. So many moments. “beibs in the trap” is one of the most impressively vapid songs I’ve heard in a while. It’s awesome. “pick up the phone” is still a euphoric jam, and Travi$ / Quavo / Young Thug still have some of the best chemistry in the game. “way back”‘s hook is just asking for a dance to be made to it. Every hook is killer, more or less. Every beat is detailed and dense, with deep bass, hard trap drums, and gorgeous synths that can be watery, murky, oppressive, subtle, or whatever other feeling Travi$ and his producers feel is needed for the song. This album is a surreal, drugged out walk through the alleys of a moonlit city. All is good.

“2 A:M howlin’ outside…”

 

4.5 stars

Standout Tracks: “through the late night” “beibs in the trap” “sweet sweet” “first take” “pick up the phone” “guidance”

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