Wednesday, October 24, 2012

EP Review - Azealia Banks - 1991

I'm writing this after having seen the woman herself live at The Junction, Cambridge, a fortnight ago. Azealia Banks came to my attention whilst reading NME about nine months ago, in the editions that were still debating Lana Del Rey's lips. Having loved her track 212 ever since deciding to check her out, the only thing stopping me downloading this EP as soon as it was available was that I was holding out for a hard copy. However, my impatience got the better of me, as I couldn't actually find one upon first searching.  So, I caved and did not regret buying once I'd listened to it. But anyway. On to it.

Track One: 1991

The eponymous track here is a wonderful opener, as it demonstrates everything that Azealia Banks is and does. (Allow me to suggest looking at the video, simply for the moments of 0:26 and 3:24.)

1991 is in fact Azealia's birth year (see the roman numerals tattooed by her left collar bone), which explains the line "One-nine-nine-one, my time has come".
The primary drawback to this song is that her French pronunciation in the lead vocals is vaguely distressing in comparison to the "Excusez-moi... Est-ce que vous servez..? Où est un bon restaurant? Allez-y..." in the introduction, beneath the clinking of glasses and chatter of a crowd. That said, the fact that she includes French in the song gets her kudos. This song builds up layers of samples and so on, with breaks between verses which have been ended as samples overtake in volume, before starting again a level up. Rapping quickly she really is a master of her own lyrics, manipulating onomatopoeia after onomatopoeia and yet still expressing herself in an incredibly natural flow. The third verse is the start of something new, opened with a sample of her singing before returning to the same rhythms as were previously in the lead vocals but upon a new theme, before a singy leading out which induces a more dancey, less aggressive vibe. This track is definitely deserving of being the focus of the EP, and even the closing is well-done, as it simmers down to some manipulated sampling, perfectly opening up for the next track. 

Track Two: Van Vogue

Again, slick rapping that's hard to keep up with and an aggressive build-up to the barer sung part, which provides another example of her nicotine-like vocals. A master of the crescendo, this pause has not meant that when she returns to the rapping it's back to square one, oh no. It keeps going, up until the distorted part about escalators and players... And then, despite a sudden dropping of volume the tense energy is maintained as the "sips that sip, hit that dip" part gets started. Continually building up and yet eventually dying down into the sampled barks, the track is excellent until you get to the seemingly improvised, technically distorted monologue at the end, which unlike Kate Nash's The Mansion Song, kind of kills the mood in the form of the eventual disruption that had up until now been eluded.

Track Three: 212

It was a wise choice not to put this earlier on the EP, as it is a show-stealer unless it's appreciated after the others have been in their own right. Azealia Banks combines shock tactics (of which its most memorable line of "I'ma ruin you, c*nt" is the predominant instrument) with her standard super-slick rapping (it takes skills to clearly say "you're gay to get discovered on my 2-1-deuce", "bitch I'm bout to blew up too" and "your bitch'll get you cut and touch your crew up too, pop" that fast without stumbling), her bold, affronted, crowd-rousing shouting ("Whatchoo gon' do when I appear? Wh-wh-when I premiere?") and her seductive singing (in the "ayo" bit) to create what has brought her such fame (or infamy).
Sampling Lazy Jay's "Float my Boat" as, essentially, her backing, AB fits her lyrics perfectly to it in her breakthrough track, with this being the only cause of the only bad moment - when she slows down with the average lyrics of "if you do want to put your guns up... you know you were too, once", leaving her both exposed and vulnerable. However, considering her youth at this song's conception, this still is a true, timeless anthem, and it has not failed to effect a pure riot of united energy live and when played at parties. 

Track Four: Liquorice

I probably never would've thought, years ago, that I'd be positively idolising a woman who wrote a song including the question "do you jiggle your dick?"
Though the song begins with a different vibe from the other tracks, she reestablishes herself as soon as her vocals enter, though less aggressively and more casually than before. This song is also much more sexually orientated than the other three, contending even with one of her earlier tracks (to be found on Fantasea), L8R. This song, however, includes her slickest rapping on the EP, with many moments of very fast, tongue-twisting lines, and there are still the beautiful moments of her unique voice singing the hook, before the track traditionally fades out, rather than letting the build-up fall down into a sudden silence upon empty ears, so props for knowing when to not try too hard to be original.

Donc, le verdict définitif...
(See what I did there, oui?)

Don't try and listen to it without headphones if young kids or older generations are around... But do listen to it, because knowing it word for word will complete your life, and she's a party piece in herself. Every track on here is worth a lot of listens and every track could be a single, but as an EP the songs compliment one another perfectly. A beautiful creation tainted only by the random rant halfway through, hopefully heralding even more hot progenies that glitter with beads of sweat.

Music a bit like this:

  • Anything with loads of swearing in it, obviously, because she ain't exactly PC.
  • Rage Against the Machine, because they've got the same kind of anger, though they are more political.
  • Ima Read (see video) because when I saw her live, Zebra Katz and Njena Red Foxxx supported and were such great performers, and this song went down a storm with the Cambridge crowd. And on Fantasea there's some form of this there.

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