Le1f – “Riot Boi”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Rage,” “Koi”

Le1f is coming into his own as a rapper in the best possible time: he’s walking alongside rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Heems (whom he used to produce for), who have been open about struggles with social issues. While they have been open about depression, Le1f raps about sexuality. He’s an openly homosexual rapper, something he wears with pride despite the potential ostracization from his own scene. And to tag on to a unique voice, he’s got a manic, sometimes avant-garde backing beat that results in a sonic experience unlike anything else in rap.

If we learned anything from the minor hit Le1f had with “Wut” in 2013, it was that Le1f’s voice is low and his flow is fast. He continues it on his first full-length, a baritone voice that either stands out or blends into the music, whenever necessary. But even if his flow is fast (like, Lil’ Wayne fast), his voice is as clear as his message: you can’t tear me down. Le1f, as an up-and-comer, has already had a bigger wall to climb than most: he accused (rightfully) Macklemore of stealing the beat for “Wut” in his mega-hit “Thrift Shop” and then called him out for “Same Love,” saying (rightfully) that a straight man had no right to tell that story. But going up against one of the biggest artists in the country will have some immediate backlash. Thankfully, Le1f has taken it head-on: “Riot Boi” is a riot, indeed. Le1f is telling the world: Macklemore wasn’t the right person to tell that story; Le1f is.

He does address his sexuality in multiple songs, the best being in “Grace Alek Naomi” and “Taxi.” In the former, he raps, “You say f**k boys, well n***a, I f**k boys.” On the latter, “Boys pass me like taxis do.”

Musically, Le1f makes sure that “Riot Boi” is a sonic amalgum. “Rage” alternates between insanity and springtime happiness like manic depression, “Cheap” has an incessantly catchy, chiptune beat, “Koi” mashes avant-garde with dance, and “Umami / Water” drops hard and takes a left turn, going from a decent song into a musical odyssey halfway through. Le1f dresses like a rapper of the future, and here he sounds like one too. “Lisa,” meanwhile, just has simple trap beats. Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, drops in on the smooth finale “Change,” which bolsters the album’s manic nature.

Le1f is a rapper in his own category. He’s not about theatrics – evident by the album’s opener, “Hi,” where he starts almost in media res. Yet, the album is filled with dense and unexpected musical mastery. His lyrics cut as hard as the music, and the music cuts hard. Even in a bludgeoning rap scene, every rapper is finding some way to be creative and different – but an album like “Riot Boi” still makes you wonder if the rest of the scene is going stale. Le1f should be a household name, and in a few years he might be. Just by sheer force.

-By Andrew McNally

Crying – “Get Olde/Second Wind”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Bloom,” “Bodega Run”

To people who have never heard Crying, this double EP is something really new. To fans, it’s very literally not new. The first half is just a reprint of last year’s “Get Olde” EP, combined with a new “Second Wind” EP. So it can’t technically be labeled as an album, and the combination does not answer the listener’s question of why this was done in the first place. Still, “Get Olde” is an excellent EP, and their blend of emo, indie and chiptune is incredibly unique.

What separates Crying from Run For Cover Records labelmates like, say, Pity Sex or Tiger’s Jaw is definitely, unequivocally the use of the digital, video-game-y sounds. It’s a primary focus of their music – the main instrument on every track. Sometimes it’s shrill, sometimes it’s melodic, other times it doesn’t seem to fit and you wonder if you’re going to get a break from it. Luckily, Crying take it upon themselves to differentiate every track, so their unique sound doesn’t become an automatic staple after the first go-around.

It’s easy to describe Crying as a chiptune band, one instrument is literally a Game Boy. But where other bands have experimented with this before, they’ve never roped in such unexpected lyrics. Similar bands often take goofy tones, mimicking the video game world they’re trying to engross. But Crying sing on a real plane – real people in a real, crushing world. “Vacation” namechecks Costco and flip phones, proving they’re living in a globalized society. And frequent references to bodegas cement the band as New York apartment-dwellers, not suburban basement-surviving nerds. It’s a distinction, because Crying’s music has a dense aura to it.

Both EP’s have their up and down moments. They both end on slow tracks (“ES” and “Close,” respectively), and neither really works that well. But both EP’s have honest and devastating lyrics, often delivered in Elaiza’s exasperated vocals. And while “Get Olde” stays right by the Boy’s side, “Second Wind” lets up some room for some drum (“Easy Flight”) and some guitar moments (“Batang Killjoy”). The second side is more varied and denser than “Get Olde,” although the band is more consistent in the release’s first half. I’ve been on to Crying for a while now; their first full-lengthed release is an extremely interesting listen. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun, desperate mess, and it’s a promising release for the future.

-By Andrew McNally