I live in a music vacuum. Ask any of my friends, and they'll tell you: I'm not at all musically inclined. Out of all forms of art, it's what I've always appreciated the least. As an art history major that loves the theater and keeps a running wish list of films to watch, I like to tell myself I'm at least somewhat cultured in other ways...ways that (don't really) make up for my absolute ignorance of the current music scene.
While I've always been content sequestering my musical experiences to calming oldies on my record player and energizing, ABBA-packed playlists for my workouts, my best friend decided enough was enough: After 21 years, it was time for a cultural reawakening. This summer was a good of a time as ever to get over my disinclination toward new music, and there was no other way to rid it besides jumping in headfirst. I made the plunge by listening to "ASTROWORLD" by Travis Scott.
"ASTROWORLD," Scott's third studio album named after a closed amusement park, was the obvious choice to kick off the rebirth of my musical appreciation. Dropped last week on Aug. 3, it is the sound of today — a foundation in the present state of music on which to build an appreciation for the future. Boasting collaborations with Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Drake, "ASTROWORLD" also gave me a taste of other big-name artists in the music industry. While I was somewhat familiar with the sound of each of the other artists' work, I had never listened to a song by Travis Scott. Before hearing the album, I really only ever thought of him as Stormi's dad and Kylie’s partner. I came to the tracks with an open mind and a completely blank slate, with no expectations of what the album would sound or feel like.
With a smooth beat and heavy auto tune, "STARGAZING" leads the album with an exciting, atmospheric sound. Cutting to a completely different beat nearly three minutes into the song, a psychedelic synth melody welcomes the tone of the rest of the album. The synth lasts into the following song, "CAROUSEL," which quickly skips to an old-timey radio voiceover— a theme featured heavily later in "R.I.P. SCREW"— which grounds the otherwise heavily edited vocals in real-world sounds.
Five tracks into the album, I was genuinely surprised by "STOP TRYING TO BE GOD" — the song that became my favorite of all 17. Even though I didn't know what to expect from "ASTROWORLD," I definitely didn't expect the soulful, haunting harmonica of the track. The harmonica — played by Stevie Wonder – pairs with James Blake's beautiful vocals and lyrics ("And did you see the void in the past?/ And can you ever see it comin' back?") in the last few minutes of the song to a melancholic, memorable effect.
Produced by Tame Impala's Kevin Parker and featuring The Weeknd, "SKELETONS" reflects the indie and pop backgrounds of its collaborators. With a drumming beat and psychedelic guitar, the track sets up for the seductive vocals and guitar of "WAKE UP." Followed by the quirky piano loop of "5% TINT," all of the tracks add to the album's dream-like atmosphere with different instruments and sounds.
With an intro vaguely reminiscent of the “Stranger Things” theme song, "ASTROTHUNDER" is a standout track, not only because it was produced by John Mayer, of all people. With spacey sound effects and smooth vocals, the song makes for easy listening with a chill space odyssey vibe. The easy listening continues with a peaceful flute loop in "YOSEMITE." While "CAN'T SAY," "WHO? WHAT!" and "BUTTERFLY EFFECT" also have chill vibes overall, they seem to get lost behind the stronger, more versatile tracks of the album.
In the 17th and last track of the album, Scott finishes with "COFFEE BEAN." Strikingly slower than the songs before, the contemplative lyrics ("I've been going through a lot behind this glass tint") and violin loop form a staircase off the album's roller coaster. Though not as distinctive as songs like "STARGAZING" and "ASTROTHUNDER," "COFFEE BEAN" provides a needed relief from the heavy beats of the rest of by "ASTROWORLD."
Never having listened to a full hip-hop album in one go and never having appreciated rap, I was extremely surprised by "ASTROWORLD." I thought that I'd be turned off by the album, and that I'd stubbornly go back to my oldies for good. Drawn in by the psychedelic atmosphere, I stayed for the diversity of instruments, vocalists and vibes I had no idea to expect. Listening to the entire album at once felt like a spin on Space Mountain— and now that I'm tall enough to get on the ride, I'm sure as hell getting back in line.
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