Dominic Fike’s ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ is some superstar shit

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong, Columbia Records

“Call me what you want, when you want, if you want,” Dominic Fike stated in his breakthrough single “3 Nights.” Aloof, monotonous, and oh so cool, the single instantly shot the singer into the realm of artists to be born out of the Frank Ocean incubator.

Drawing inspiration from the likes of the aforementioned mogul and his group Odd Future, Fike is one of many contemporary artists to blend pop, rap, and R&B in a way that feels like what can only be described as Gen Z punk. It’s brash, rebellious, and manic.

This cocktail of carnage continues as it’s spread across the sporadic and emotional tracks on Fike’s debut album What Could Possibly Go Wrong. Dropping the question mark, the album title is less a question than a powerful statement of what, exactly, has gone wrong for Fike throughout the early years of his still steadily progressing career.

Thematically weaving together tales of toxic relationships, family and self destruction, the project is, for better or worse, a concise, raw glimpse into the mind of the Florida artist. It plays largely like demo tapes, with Fike adopting an often jarring blend of rock, rap, R&B and pop. Its a free flowing stream of consciousness, decidedly messy and intentionally imperfect.

Opening with “Come Here,” Fike doesn’t grip the listener so much as he forces their attention on him. Like The 1975’s “People” off their recent project Notes On A Conditional Form, it’s an urgent, impactful introduction to the project.

Fike’s self destruction continues most notably on tracks “Superstar Sh*t,” “Cancel Me” and “What’s For Dinner?” On the former, Fike outlines the ongoing loss of a relationship that directly resulted from his sudden success and the pitfalls associated with fame in the digital age. Doubled down by the production, Fike sounds like he’s literally underwater, trapped and drowning in a bottle of his demons.

On “What’s For Dinner?” Fike perpetuates this narrative, discussing his struggles with drugs and alcohol and its influence on his personal relationships. “I just got back from the gastroenterologist. He told me that I can’t drink, so now I be high and shit,” he concedes, disappointed.

“Cancel Me” combines this mental strife with the family theme. The stickiest track on the album, “Cancel Me” is one of the strongest singular statements Fike offers. It’s an often tongue and check declaration of his apathy towards the Hollywood machine. Not only that, it influences thoughts of nostalgia and longing for a past life outlined on “Good Game.”

With “Good Game,” Fike creatively adopts the perspective of his father. A slower, sunnier track, it illustrates the flawed, encouraging support from Fike’s father. More important, it’s a depiction of his father’s ploy to motivate Fike away from suffering a similar fate. The safety of the guitar riffs envelopes Fike as he smoothly delivers the goods, free from the corruption and fraught nature of the LA music scene.

Fike takes a play from the book of John Mayer for “Vampire,” drawing inspiration from Mayer’s “Neon” and “Vultures.” The track’s opening guitar riff is immediately reminiscent of the former, with the titular bloodsucking nature of LA culture lending itself to the latter’s lyricism. The track is an evidently tired metaphor only forgiven by Fike’s charismatic delivery and sticky vocals.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong also outlines the facets of Fike’s romantic life through the lens of several relationships. The brilliance of this comes in the dichotomy of tracks “Why” and “Chicken Tenders.” On “Why,” Fike challenges his partner to think more deeply on why she navigates her suffocating job, relationships and colleagues with such complacency.

“You ever wonder why?” he asks her.

That rumination quickly resolves into one of the album’s more positive tracks “Chicken Tenders.” Living lavishly in a hotel room, Fike outlines the gluttonous glee of constant food and sex within the solace of a private environment.

That euphoria is proven fleeting, as outlined on one of the final track “Wurli.” Coming in towards the finish line, this gem of a song is easy to overlook, but it features some of the most emotionally palpable lyricism on the album. Painting the portrait of a relationship where Fike lacks all control, it adds another layer to the album’s toxicity.

The only main pitfall of the record is its length. Many of the songs feel unfinished, leaving the listener dissatisfied and longing for more.

Perhaps it was never meant to be finished. Rather, it’s a choice on an album where no decision feels rushed or accidental. Listeners are put in the frame of mind of the artist behind the curtain, feeling exasperated, fleetingly thrilled, and emotionally effected.


Taylor Swift outdoes herself on ‘folklore’

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folklore, Republic Records

Taylor Swift wasn’t kidding when she exclaimed, “I promise that you’ll never find another like me!” The hook to her 2019 album Lover‘s laughably bad lead single, the statement has never reigned more true than it does today.

Gone is any trace of that pop star. In her place is a daring songwriter unafraid to explore the depths of her emotion and mastery of narrative.

On the eve of its release, Swift announced folklore, a 16 song collection of indie folk songs birthed from the imagination of an indefinitely quarantined Taylor Swift. In describing the album, Swift states, “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t.”

This diversity of perspective and point of view enriches Swift in a way listeners have yet to hear. In reflecting on her own life, Swift thinks of a childhood friend with a difficult home life (“seven”), cloaks herself in a fable of a woman seeking vengeance on a town that has wronged her (“mad woman”), and celebrates unconditional love (“invisible string”).

Swift extends her talents beyond herself, applying her imagination to the folklore that aptly titles the record. Blurring the lines of history and fiction, Swift creates a trilogy of nostalgic tracks. These songs (“cardigan,” “august,” and “betty”) play with time and perspective, depicting a high school love triangle and its permanence in the memories of each party.

Further expanding the already quietly epic saga are songs alluding to history. On “the last great american dynasty,” Swift tells the story of Rebekah Harkness and her Holiday House, the Rhode Island mansion Swift would come to own. Like “mad woman,” Swift delicately sprinkles herself in the story, weaving her own mistakes into the fabric of Harkness’s life and story. Similarly, one of the most poignant moments on the record comes in “epiphany,” during which Swift pays homage to her grandfather while empathetically thinking of health workers working on a new kind of front line.

Much of the strength of folklore lays in the proof that overexposure and fame taint even the strongest of creative minds. In fact, the singer’s strongest musical statements were created from the privacy of her several homes across the globe. From reputation‘s “Delicate” to Lover‘s “Cornelia Street,” Swift has come into her own as a private person.

This newfound seclusion has really given Swift the necessary space to thrive in her exploration of the craft that brought her so much obsessive scrutiny and attention.

With folklore, Swift takes this isolation a step further, veiling once on the nose songwriting in freshly tinged metaphor. With the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner, longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff, and indie king Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Swift begins again.

For the first time, Swift desolves beneath the surface of these stories. The music is no longer the diary of a naive suburban girl. This is a fully matured woman collecting scattered memories and stories, weaving them together in an intricate tapestry broadcasting the emotional spectrum. At its center, as it always is with Swift, is love.

This is an album Taylor herself needed to write, but the constraints of superstardom, pressures of pleasing the masses and those who dare lock her in a box prevented that, until now. Drawing inspiration from artists like Lana Del Rey (“cardigan,” “seven”) The Cranberrys (“august,” “mirrorball”), and sprinkles of her own past work (“Safe & Sound,” “Holy Ground”) Swift amplifies her songwriting. She shatters the magnifying glass that is the modern media’s exploitative infatuation with women in power.

In this deconstruction, Swift finally sheds the image she’s been running from since 2017’s reputation. With Lover acting as a necessary palette cleanser and closure to the pop chapter of the singer’s career, folklore is a new beginning in so many ways.

Many albums of this length, including some from Swift’s discography, unavoidably include a few duds. With this album, though, not a single song is worth skipping. While the final third of the album is noticeably slower, it only brightens the spotlight on Swift’s astonishing, unparalleled lyricism. Closing the album with “peace” and “hoax,” Swift challenges listeners to think of a better songwriter in the industry today, and they’ll likely struggle to muster one.

For anyone to doubt the limitless talents and constantly impressive metamorphosis of Taylor Swift at this point is as fleeting as the romance the singer relates on “august.” Unlike that subject matter, it will take more than a bottle of wine to sip away folklore.


Feature: Ambitious pop act Tamara is cookin in quarantine

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TMusic

From Fairfield, Connecticut, emerging talent Tamara has worked tirelessly to grow as an artist in today’s pop music landscape. The confident creator was brought up largely in New York City where she attended high school.

During her later years in school, Tamara’s passion became clear. Recording, writing, and collaborating with producers around the city, Tamara landed a spot in the coveted Bandier Program within the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Now a junior, Tamara continues to grow her sound and her network.

With dreams of continuing to master her sound and dip her toes in the production space, Tamara works to get to the next level after she finishes her degree next year. I had a chance to chat with the ever-evolving artist. We talked inspirations, goals, and what it means to be an artist in today’s industry.


UNSOLICITED: How has isolation been going for you so far?

Tamara: Worst question of the summer (laughs)! I just came back from a trip to Vermont about three days ago. My life was significantly different before I left. I had this online class I hadn’t started yet and when I came back things started picking up, but its a good thing.

U: How has the songwriting/recording process been throughout quarantine? 

T: Whether it’s in this time period or not, my creativity comes in waves. Obviously before COVID it was a lot easier to have access to recording, but I mostly write songs late at night during sad boy hours. What I write isn’t necessarily in that space, but when my night owl instincts come in I just go.

I record all my singles with my producer, Joey Auch, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, but I can’t see him right now. I have another friend, Lucas Dell’Abate, in Greenwich who has equipment – we go to my pool house and record from there. If you’re passionate about something, you make it work.

U: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?

T: Personally, I’m geared for pop music. The reason I’ve done some EDM and electropop is because I have a lot of friends in that space who I’ve been able to collaborate with.

In terms of inspirations, I love Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now has been on repeat. Another artist I’ve been inspired by is TS Graye. She’s inspired my sound through nostalgia. I exist in a space that’s half nostalgia, half bad bitch. I’m feeling nostalgic, but I’m not to be fucked with (laughs).

U: When did you first start to think about forming a career in music?

T: Junior year of high school. I had a huge epiphany during my sophomore year when I realized it would be really tough, but it was what I was supposed to do. I decided I couldn’t live my life going through a 9-5 and hating my life. From that moment forward I started working on technique to the point where I felt comfortable enough to go to my producer the next year.

I started working with my producer, and he’s kind of evolved with me. Whenever I have an idea but can’t articulate it, he catches my vibe and helps me continue to find my sound. Every time we go in and finish a session, I come back out more fulfilled.

U: What do you see as the pros and cons of the current music industry?

T: With this virus, the live music scene is definitely missed. The touring industry makes up so much of the revenue of this industry. There’s a lot of streaming happening, but there’s a difference from an audience’s perspective of going to a show vs streaming.

Overall, one great thing about the industry right now is the diversity of producers, more women behind the soundboard and seated at the table. We’re starting to tap into that network more. Another great thing is that artists have more time to be consistent. Normally everything is so on the go that now is a good time to step back and plan out music releases.

U: Where do you want your music to go, sonically and in audience growth?

T: Sonically, I work with my sound song by song. Every artist wants their numbers and audience to increase. Obviously my music connects to me because I’m the one writing it. I can’t sit down and force it to connect with somebody else.

The great thing about music is that there’s more than one aspect to listen to. If you don’t like the lyrics, maybe you’ll like the melody; if you don’t like the melody, maybe you’ll like the beat behind it. There are different aspects of a song that people can connect to.

Personally, I just want people to find one of these things to connect to in my songs. I don’t need you to relate to me. If you do, that’s great and I’m genuinely happy; but, my purpose on this Earth was not to people please. I just want my music to be out there in a way where people appreciate it and love it for what it is.

U: When you’re recording a song, do you think about what will resonate with a bigger audience? Are you surprised by what sticks vs. what doesn’t?

T: When I’m recording I don’t think about anyone else’s take. When I’m in the studio, I’m paying attention to how it sounds to me. I start to think in that space moreso after the song has been released.

I know, sonically, what’s more popular; but, that’s not always the take that I go for and I’m fine with that. I take a lot of pride in who I am as a person and my individuality. When I’m in the studio I don’t think about Top 40. I just go in there and its me. Sometimes it ends up sounding like Top 40, and sometimes it sounds like something different.

I’ve come a long way and I’m grateful for the people who have helped me and the program I’m in, but I still have a very long way to go. I credit my knowledge and my willingness to move forward to myself and to my program.


Skofee dazzles with debut single ‘Fantomlimb’

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“Fantomlimb” Sign From The Universe Entertainment

From Wichita, Kansas to Los Angeles, California, singer songwriter Skofee has developed a sound that feels accessible, unique, and above all, engaging.

Drawing inspiration from bluegrass and folk, Skofee has curated a sharp eye for storytelling over the years. More important, she has successfully honed in on the type of stories listeners crave to hear; nostalgic, pain soaked, and unfinished.

“I’m attracted to songs that admit fault and work through emotions in real time rather than presenting the conclusion wrapped up with a bow,” Skofee expressed. “It’s more interesting to be in the point of tension as a listener; the in-between.”

With her debut single, “Fantomlimb,” the artist drops listeners into this introspective limbo.

The song challenges pundits to clear space and make room for a new type of pop artist –one that forgoes gimmicks, instead applying her unfiltered insights into the world today. At their center is the duality of a feigned external self-assertion and the internal doubt quietly gnawing from within.

Acting as the pilot to her debut EP Polished out later this year, “Fantomlimb” is an acrobatic showcase of the already cultured 23-year-old singer’s talents. From her poignant pen to her proven vocal range, Skofee dazzles.

The single instantly transports the listener into a dreamy headspace through which their deepest feelings may roam wildly. Longing, emotional, tense – “Fantomlimb” is an incredibly impressive, self assured debut from an artist shockingly just beginning what is sure to become a fruitful career.

The track’s strengths lay in its universality. Injecting lush vocals only few can muster, Skofee relates the all too real feeling of longing for someone that isn’t emotionally present in a way they were in the past.

“Pretending you’re mine makes me selfish, but I could use some kind of peace of mind,” she coos.

Whether through the lens of romance or friendship, listeners can relate. They will easily lose themselves in the lyricism, made stronger by Skofee’s angelic delivery.

Underneath this delicate dispatch is a mid tempo electropop production from LA based alt-pop trio Moontower’s Devan Welsh. Accessible but not overbearing, Walsh’s contribution enriches the tune. The production slowly builds to its emotional climax, expertly crafting the tension surrounding the artist in the spotlight. The sound further evokes the feelings laid out in the lyrics, adding another layer through which the listener can feel the unbridled complexities of Skofee’s emotional process.

One of 5 new tracks to be featured on the Polished EP, “Fantomlimb” is only the beginning for the new artist. The string of experiences are tightly wrapped in theme and execution, providing listeners with just a taste of what’s to come from the artist in the near future.

“I wrote the songs [on Polished] as individual thoughts and linked their meanings after I had a collection I felt I could really stand behind,” Skofee explained. “My goal as a songwriter is to create concise moments for the listener to engage with, and I do feel that each song on the EP accomplishes a different moment.”

Polished drops September 21.


Feature: YAA! Koala brings the party on ‘Choir Boy’

CHOIR BOY cover
Choir Boy, YAA! KOALA CUTEGANG

Not even a global pandemic could stop Russian-born, New York-based electronic wizard YAA! Koala from making his mark with his debut project. Described by his team as “joyful, optimistic, and endlessly danceable,” the 7-song collection is an energetic thrill ride, marking a promising debut for a genre that continues to be a mainstay in pockets around the globe.

I had a chance to virtually sit down with the artist to pick his brain about career beginnings, current industry trends, and insights on the future.

UNSOLICITED: Let’s start from the beginning. Did you always plan on music being your career? What was your first experience with the craft?

YAA! Koala: I started off doing international law – hard to get a green card as a musician. Once the green card came in, I quit the firm and went all in. I had a hip-hop duo that ran for a couple years. Unfortunately, the better we did, the worse our relationship became and we ultimately split. YAA! Koala came next. But to take it way way back, I remember writing a song about polar bears when I was six (I’m Russian, so naturally).

U: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations? Who are you listening to now?

YK: That’s an impossible question for a musician to answer. My inspirations include: Nirvana, Tyler, the Creator (OFWGKTA!), Childish Gambino through Because the Internet / Kauai era, 808s/Yeezus-era Kanye, D’Angelo (Voodoo), Erykah Badu, Meshell Ndegeocello, Mac Miller, Stevie Wonder, Skrillex, San Holo, Diplo, Getter, DJ Snake, Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, Lily Allen, Sara Tavares (Balance & Xinti).

Currently I would say Angèle, Aitch, Kero Kero Bonito, Oliver Tree, 100 Gecs, Easy Life, Joji, Poshlaja Molli, CHAI, Michael Brun. I could keep going for days.

U: Dream collaborators? 

YK: Skrillex, Aitch, Videoclub, Beabadoobee, Minesweepa.

U: What are your thoughts on the industry as it stands today, do you feel an increased autonomy with streaming or that it’s daunting and oversaturated?

YK: The industry is what it is. It has never been easy. The diversity and quality of music these days is incredible. The arms race pushes the quality way up, unfortunately at the expense of healthy lifestyle and mental health. That said, it’s hard not to geek out listening to a Zeds Dead compilation or Minesweepa. At the same time, Jace Mek is open about working at an Amazon warehouse, despite placements on major labels. There needs to be a better way.

U: How has the current pandemic inspired and/or stifled your creativity?

YK: It hasn’t affected me much. It exists mainly in the news and on social media. I still get up, exercise, run up to the mountains (got stuck in Cape Town during the lockdown), and then go on about my day. People are irrational and it’s frustrating to see the world come to a halt in this case, while we continue to ignore a million other risk factors (horrible food, lack of exercise, pollution, smoking, stress, driving, etc.)

U: Where does the name “YAA! Koala” come from?

YK: YAA! means “I” in Russian. It is also fun to do a call and response at shows. And koalas are warm and cuddly, which kind of captures the feel-good vibe of my sound.

U: You’ve talked about exploring psychedelics on your social media pages. What is your relationship to them and how have they informed your art?

YK: Microdosing psilocybin was the first step getting above water after years of fairly severe depression – I also highly recommend the book Lost Connections by Johann Hari. The ego dissolution from a larger dose was quite special – probably deserves a separate interview. Not sure whether psilocybin has had an impact on music that’s currently out, but going forward, I will keep trying to make it more vivid, to create a space through which the listener can travel. Jack Stauber does this brilliantly in his Micropop releases. So far I’ve found it hard to balance making a track that snaps in a club with a more intricate composition with greater depth, but I’m going to crack the formula one day.

U: What is something you learned through the process of creating Choir Boy?

YK: Let songs sit for a few weeks before finalizing or releasing — do your best to hear them as an outsider, which is always a challenge because you spend hours, days, weeks working on them.

U: What was the most challenging aspect of the record’s recording process? Most rewarding?

YK: Getting the song from the initial creative idea to the final product. The actual composition that involves creativity is probably 10-20 percent of the song. The rest, especially in electronic music, is getting the mix right, making sure that it’s clear, impactful, and translates well on different speakers – none of which is particularly sexy or fun. So getting a song across the finish line is both challenging and rewarding.

U: Tell me about your apartment situation and your current quarantined life in Cape Town. How has that been? Has it led to creating any music?

YK: Umm. Good times. I was in South Africa when the world went offline, borders were closed, and flights were cancelled. Still here, though cannot complain — the place is magic. The downside is I had squatters move into my New York apartment, and because of New York’s bizarre tenant laws, I have to go through months of legal process to throw them out, all the while paying rent for them. That has been insane.

U: What’s one thing you want audiences to know about you that may not be reflected in your music just yet?

YK: I like playing guitar. I feel like I will have a San Holo moment, when I will incorporate more of it into my songs.

Choir Boy is available now on streaming services.


The Weeknd delivers an ‘After Hours’ session worth waiting for

It’s 2011. The 2010s have brought new artists, new sounds, and new ways of listening to music. From the depths of the underground comes a shiny new artist: The Weeknd. Cryptic and mysterious, but all the more interesting, the Canadian R&B songster presents a juicy blend of Michael Jackson and The-Dream.

It’s now 2020. Nearly a decade has passed and The Weeknd has had one of the most transformative careers of men in pop music. From his experimental debut studio album narrating a life on tour in KissLand to his first foray into provocative bubblegum pop in Starboy, to a headlining slot at one of the biggest music festivals on the planet, The Weeknd has constantly reinvented himself. With each new project, he’s peeled back a layer of himself for the world to see. Something, though, has always been left to mystery.

"After Hours" The Weeknd
After Hours, Republic Records

Enter After Hours.

His first album in nearly five years, After Hours is a raw, precise, and enlightening glimpse into The Weeknd as he is today – flaws and all. Over 14 tracks dipped in glossy production and pristine vocal delivery, the singer opens the door to a new world.

The record exists in the same universe as Starboy. The reputation to his 1989, the Blackout to his In the Zone, After Hours is Starboy‘s darker, more emotionally indulgent sequel. The 80s synths and Max Martin presence are still present, but the largest change is a well established theme of loss and increased concession of honesty.

It’s not that he discusses topics left unexplored in past efforts, it’s instead The Weeknd’s willingness to speak from a place of deeper vulnerability. Perhaps a product of age, time or growth, this newfound sense of integrity is a welcome evolution.

Take the comparison of Starboy hit “Sidewalks” and After Hours highlight “Snowchild” as an example.

“Homeless to Forbes list,” he boasts on “Sidewalks.” It relates to his rags to riches history, not unlike many Hollywood success stories. It’s a very surface-level head banger.

With “Snowchild,” The Weeknd goes deeper.

He paints the unfiltered portrait of that life on the streets, with drug-dealing friends and near suicidal times illustrating the world around him. The artist’s newfound ability to shape a compelling narrative is what sets this album apart from Starboy and much of his other work.

To add to the successful narrative streamline is an expertly crafted album structure. Songs bleed from one to the next, trickling down as The Weeknd opens one wound after another. These transitions are most impressive in moments like “Hardest To Love” and “Scared To Live,” as well as in “Faith” and “Blinding Lights.”

Not only in production but in subject matter and lyricism, these songs grip the listener and provide an immersive listening experience. The Weeknd’s consciousness has never sounded more fully realized. He pays homage to his earlier days with the beat-switching ambience of tracks “Escape From LA,” “Faith,” and album opener “Alone Again.” The latter acts as an immediately engaging introduction into the world of the album.

Though there are many highs and layers worth exploring, the album is far from flawless. Towards the back half of the album’s run is a slight rough patch through which The Weeknd drags listeners. Pandering to the masses in a way that discredits the work as a piece of art, the radio inclined “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears” take the album off the map and onto the Top 40.

Though the former has a sticky enough hook and saxophone loop to bypass its obvious ploy for streams and radio play, the latter falters. “Save Your Tears” isn’t a bad song, it just doesn’t have a reason to exist or a storyline that hasn’t already been covered on the record (i.e., “Scared To Live”).

One of the most pleasant surprises on After Hours is the Kevin Parker-assisted interlude that brings the album back on track after it’s wrong turn. One of the more experimental tracks from a production standpoint, the interlude provides the necessary relief before the final set.

After Hours is perhaps The Weeknd’s most cohesive body of work to date. With a singular vision in terms of aesthetic and visual scope, harmoniously weaved together sound, and candid sincerity, The Weeknd extends his already impressive career with the ease of a veteran.