ASTROWORLD – Better Than You Think

Samuel Michelson, Staff

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Can you hear that? It sounds like… it sounds like someone’s in sicko mode.

Travis Scott, hip-hop pioneer, recently released his third studio album, ASTROWORLD. Reactions from fans and critics have been polarized, with many believing it to live up to its incredibly high expectations and many others declaring it a let-down. After the mainly negative reception of Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, Travis’s sophomore album, this seems to be a step up, with the new record seeming to be called mediocre at worst.

I would give it a little more credit than that. To me, ASTROWORLD is a return to the style of Scott’s Rodeo days, complete with a large ensemble of features, gut-wrenching but artsy production, fluent beat switches and catchy choruses that don’t get in the way of good lyricism.

However, there are several tracks – especially near the end of the record – that would definitely not be missed if cut, as they aren’t much but uninspired, trap bangers. And, while there are many fantastic features throughout the record (James Blake, Stevie Wonder, and Kid Cudi in ONE song), some seem detrimental to their respective songs, like Gunna poorly covering about 60% of the song “YOSEMITE.”

“HOUSTONFORNICATION,” “NC-17,” and “WHO? WHAT!” are good examples of these aforementioned uninspired and, frankly, boring tracks, with the latter not even being able to be saved by Migos’ Quavo and Takeoff, who are only given about 20 seconds of listening time cumulatively.

Promotional material for ASTROWORLD

However, the opening track, “STARGAZING,” is a perfect example of why ASTROWORLD is a good album at its core. The catchy autotune chorus is amazing, including its strangely captivating falsetto. And the beat switch at the halfway mark of the song is disgustingly great, with the descending arpeggios and dirty 808. Travis has stayed true to the sound he has developed while updating it slightly to fit with the new generation of hip-hop fans.

Additionally, he has also begun to work with more real instruments and alternative instrumentals – “ASTROTHUNDER” features legendary bassist Thundercat, and “SKELETONS” has production credits from none other than Kevin Parker, guitarist of psychedelic band Tame Impala – as to not become dry. It’s pleasant to see that Scott is still experimenting with sound and pushing the boundaries of his music.

The ever-so-popular “SICKO MODE” with Drake (who I’m not particularly a fan of) is almost not even a song, but a display of Scott’s skill and ability to innovate. The instrumental switch out at the beginning with the second beat switch on the album is perfectly executed, as Drake delivers two lines and is immediately replaced by a new instrumental that Scott covers.

My favorite tracks on this album also include “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD,” an almost cautionary ballad of sorts, with psychedelic calls from James Blake “Stop trying to be God, that’s just not your job” as Kid Cudi delivers his trademark hums and Stevie Wonder, of all people, contributes beautiful harmonica playing to the song.

“CAN’T SAY” has one of the most infectious hooks on the record, and the Gunna feature (who more or less sounds like a bargain bin Young Thug) actually isn’t bad; his contrast with Scott on the song is interesting to hear, but it does leave you wondering how great it would have been had Young Thug been on the track instead of him.

 

Promotional material for Scott’s “ASTROWORLD: Wish You Were Here” Tour

“COFFEE BEAN,” the final track on the album, is a natural closer. It’s very relaxing after having been through so many high energy songs to now slide into this downtempo track. It’s soothing, it’s relieving, but it’s a bit sad all at once. From the melancholy lyrics involving Scott’s relationship with Kylie Jenner to the casual, cooled down instrumental, this song is the end of the rollercoaster that Scott has sent us on. While it did begin wild and tumultuous, with beat switches like sharp forks in the track and bass hits like a steep drop off the peak of the ride, it is now slowly coasting into the lobby of the ride with this song.

 

While there was some redundancy on this album, it is effortlessly saved by its well-placed features, layered and unique production, and hooks that get stuck in your head like glue upon first listen. From the pure energy and bounciness of songs like “STARGAZING” to the slow, chilly ballad of “COFFEE BEAN,” this album easily holds its own against Travis Scott’s other work. For me, this is a 7 out of 10.

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