Future EVOL

[Freebandz/Epic; 2016]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: abundance, xanax, auto-tune
Others: Astronaut, Super Future, Future Hendrix

If Future doesn’t drop another mixtape this side of March, it’s going to cause more outcry than if he pulls another surprise project out of his hat. After releasing Purple Reign a mere fortnight before announcing EVOL, the Atlanta rapper has opened up his work up to a similar line of critique as Young Thug, Lil B, and even Alex Gray, where conversations about the music at hand are framed in terms of the artist’s prolificacy. Releasing a steady slew of material across a couple of years isn’t hard when it doesn’t hold water, but when those releases stand out as some of the most remarkable music available for download (EVOL was premiered on the first episode of DJ Khaled’s new Beats 1 Radio show on Apple), it’s an impossible subject to avoid.

Purple Reign dropped in mid-January, and our own Brooklyn Russell did a fine job outlining the context for the “miserable street rap” that has become synonymous with Future. Although there are streaks of hope camouflaged in Future’s gritty flow, the overtones remain essentially dour on EVOL, whether reflecting on a tough upbringing (“In Her Mouth”), killing his drug dealer (“Xanny Family”), concealing his identity (“Maybach”), or not giving a fuck that money is at the center of everything in his life (“Program”).

Listening to Future gnaw on these subjects at the same time he dwells on wealth and opulence often fractures the content of his songs in the same way that his backing tracks crash dark and light melodies together. It makes for a curmudgeonly meeting of minds, where the relationship between forces (vocal and instrumental) puts emphasis on the importance of his regular producers and their ability to retain such an emotionally divergent disposition. Steady collaborator Metro Boomin produced six tracks on EVOL while also working on a sizable chunk of The Life of Pablo, bringing us full circle as far as the theme of output frequency is concerned. And on top of all of this, Southside divulged late last year another nine projects that Future had ready to roll out, making this record a meager drop in a deep, dark ocean of productivity.

On EVOL, Southside and Metro are joined by DJ Spinz, TeeLow, and Allen Ritter, among others, in providing a morose body of beats for Future to sink his lyrics into. The production is slick and striking, even when it fades to black (“Xanny Family”) or gets tangled up in layered hi-hats (“Program”) — these tracks sound equally as engaged and provocative as anything on last year’s masterful DS2. The instrumentation is conflicting enough on its own — the crystalline melody that’s drenched in delay and looped across the entirety of a single track (“In Her Mouth”) — without taking the fricative lyrical bursts into account that shake and stir an incessant bass line or a sluggish tempo. But that’s why Future’s music can often sound so charming, regardless of what else he has released that month; he has the capacity to whip additional substance into the most ominous beats before inflicting them with lyrics that bounce off so many shades of attitude and experience.

EVOL is of course “love” in reverse, whatever that might be, and Future consequently takes the feeling of his sound to a new level of low. The structures are dark and uncomfortable, complemented by lyrics about insatiable money accumulation, depressive self-confrontation, and hopelessness (still pissing out codeine from the night before): the fractured and unequal terrain that Future fans relish are even more apparent than they have been in the past. “She wanna look me eye to eye and tell me her lies/ I had accepted you/ Just like you came and never look down on you” Future divulges in a swirl of auto-tune on “Lie To Me;” on his latest unveiling, he resigns to the malice and shamelessness of others, and it does nothing but inspire him to go looking for more.

EVOL is fronted by Szymon Swietochowski’s photo of an Ars Thanea production called The Ash. The image is poignant and so well suited to this album: a crumbling beauty that has a bright light glowing at its core. It’s pretty, but that glow is also the very thing that’s going to consume the shell of a symbolic sign of affection and nurturing. And as the surge of these songs is fueled by their own core (the social environments that they are recorded in and the lifestyles they perpetuate), there is a danger that their perceived sincerity could crumble just as easily as the ash petals. But when such openness comes with mesmerizing beats and a man only too keen to take a firm hold of his destiny, that can only be a positive message. These are burning embers of a new beginning, told a thousand times over and in an infinite number of ways, hanging just below the remnants of something beautiful.

Links: Future - Freebandz/Epic

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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