Album art for Health's most "Death Magic." (Photo from pitchfork.com).Album art for Health's most "Death Magic." (Photo from pitchfork.com).Brandon Varner - Editor in Chief
editor@insideuab.com

Howdy Pardners. It’s me, Brandon. I’m back for what may be my final hurrah in the music review game. I hope you’ve had fun, and I hope your semester goes well.

This week’s mixtape is Freeway’s “Fear of a Free Planet,” released Jan. 4, 2016. The album begins by jumping into its framing device of Freeway trying to go through his day and receiving several phone calls of varying tone. There’s a nice little touch in the intro, as the caller states that “It’s six a.m., he’s probably up, he’s probably praying.” This reference to Freeway’s Islamic beliefs also gives an insight into his work ethic. Back in the heyday of Roc A Fella records, Freeway was one of the most reliable soldiers.

The third track, “Heaven,” has that classic Roc A Fella production style. Freeway’s prowess as a philosopher and storyteller is one of the most notable things on the record. He conflates his hajj to Mecca with signing a Roc A Fella deal, asserting that both felt like heaven. He lived through all of his tribulations, and he has a lot to talk about, but it never becomes a chore to listen to him talk about it.

Unfortunately, Freeway falls into the trap that a lot of my favorites from a couple of generations ago see sprung on them: complaining about “rappers nowadays!” I feel like it detracts from your message to stay away from legitimate gripes and just complain about how the game has changed. Things change, you can’t change that.

Overall, this mixtape doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, and through the lyrics he hints that this record is a teaser for a full-length to come at a later date. If you like gritty, early-2000’s hip hop, you’ll like this record.

Health released their newest record Death Magic on Aug. 7, 2015. I first got into Health from their work on the Max Payne 3 soundtrack, which as a project turned out to be a blessing and a curse for the band by most accounts. Whatever the case, I really dug their synth-rock sound. It’s like stadium-ready high-voltage aggro stuff with really light and airy vocals.

The first and second tracks really set the tone. The songs flow together seamlessly, and give a sort of dark and adventurous new romantic vibe that you have to hear to believe. The record begins on what sounds like a rain-slicked street under a single flickering streetlight. 1989 Pretty Hate Machine Trent Reznor is meeting Jan Hammer of Miami Vice to exchange some kind of weird synthesizer briefcase and Godflesh shows up to spoil the transaction.

“Dark Enough” is - ahem - big enough to be a pop hit a few years back if it was sung by someone like Rihanna or Sia. It gives you that sort of claustrophobic throwback synth vibe that a lot of pop artists are going for these days.

The second half of the record is a little inconsistent for my taste. I like the forays into pop, and I like the machine-gun snare industrial synth moments, but I think it’s a little jarring the way that it shifts back and forth, and it’s a little more annoying than it is artsy.

Overall, if you like early Nine Inch Nails, New Order, and even Rihanna then I think you’ll get a kick out of this one.
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