Editor’s note: From 2012 to 2014, Matt Rice wrote the music column Matt on Music for The Eastern Echo, the student newspaper for Eastern Michigan University. Beginning in 2016, Matt relaunched this column on The Young Folks. You can read past installments of this column here.
After a year that felt like a very slow car crash, it’s fitting that this year began with a group of releases intended to calm us down. Here are my thoughts on the new releases from The xx, David Bowie, and Brian Eno.
The xx: I See You (Young Turks) Despite a few songs that prove they can be as sleepy as ever, their third album is the one in which they wake up, discover song structure, and learn to embrace the groove. In other words, it’s where Jamie xx takes over, and also where I start to get the appeal. As willing to use their voices as musical instruments as they were on In Colour, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft also enhance the R&B influences, making “On Hold,” “Dangerous,” and “A Violent Noise” as moodily soulful as the best from Tinashe. Elsewhere, the record isn’t always perfect, but it is usually enticing, powerful, and rewarding, just like emotions. 8.5/10
David Bowie: No Plan (Columbia/Sony) Didn’t we learn in 2016 what happens when you release a David Bowie record at the beginning of the year? Bad things. At least this time, the record itself isn’t one of those bad things. As a huge Blackstar skeptic, I appreciate this EP’s posthumous messiness, as well as its length, which keeps it from overindulging the way most late-period Bowie albums did. “Lazarus,” a highlight on the LP, is the weakest thing here, with the other three cuts offering a nice taste of the Lazarus musical for people who don’t feel like listening to the 80-minute soundtrack. Plus, the sax on the title track is gorgeous enough that it almost makes me understand why everyone loved the jazz influences on his final album so much. 7/10
Brian Eno: Reflection (Warp) I was certain his early ambient work had more to it, but a relisten of Discreet Music has led me to believe that this was mostly context. As the music of the time was getting louder, more intense, and more political, instrumental-minimalist-classical music from the man who’d just put out Here Come the Warm Jets almost two years prior was radical and new. But the most experimental musicians age the worst, since younger artists influenced by them will inevitably beat them to new sounds and ideas. Reflection could be as radical as his older work, a minor record that feels innovative despite doing nothing original. But as someone with ADD, all I can say is that a CD is cheaper than wind-chimes, so get it if that’s what you’re looking for. 4/10
Single of the Week: Migos (ft. Lil Uzi Vert): “Bad and Boujee” (Quality Control/300/Atlantic)