Album Review: Azealia Banks – 1991 EP

June 26, 2012
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Azealia Banks - 1991 EPTitle: 1991 EP
Artist: Azealia Banks
Label: Interscope/Polydor/Universal Music Canada
Released: 12 June 2012
In One Word: Underwhelming

“I’mma ruin you, cunt.”

When you first hear “212”, that’s the line that jumps out. In the song’s whole three-and-a-half minutes, it’s almost the only thing that your brain can wholly process while it’s being bombarded with all of those syllables wrapped in syllables bouncing off of other syllables as they ping-pong around those shuffling, hustling drums. After the last echo of the last line when you hear it for the first time, that’s the detail you find seared into your consciousness – a mission statement as blunt as they come. It’s a bonafide moment; one of those great lines delivered greatly that flat-out demands your attention, just like “I’m a street-walkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm”, but, you know, less ridiculous.

Well, it’s six months later and the first official release from Azealia Banks is finally here. Almost two months after it was initially supposed to be in stores, 1991 has limped out of the gate with little to no fanfare, especially compared to how every single brilliant, perfect (and free) track Banks has released recently has been received. I regret to inform you that this collective “meh” is entirely deserved.

1991 is, unfortunately, a straight-up cash-in project, though that much is clear from a quick glance at the tracklist: two of these four songs (“212” and “Liquorice”) were released for free on the internet months and months ago, and seeing as how you are reading a music blog right now, the chances are good that you probably already own them. You’d think that the other two songs might at least provide an interesting glimpse of what we might be able to expect more of on a later release, but even those are mostly-forgettable letdowns. The title track and “Van Vogue”, produced by frequent collaborator Machinedrum, are both built on beats that are thinly veiled attempts to replicate the groove of “212”, and neither song comes close. Instead, they come off as oddly restrained. Oh, Banks certainly raps with great technical prowess throughout, but we know she can do that. What’s missing here is the terrifyingly confident gonzo-fire that’s present in songs like “Fuck Up The Fun”, where she’s given loud, booming, relentless drums to go absolutely Looney Tunes over. But “1991” and “Van Vogue” – and that aesthetically jarring Wal-Pop cover-art – do exactly what they shouldn’t by making Banks seem like anything less than her incredibly singular self.

In the spaces in between, there does lurk a weirdness, however: at the end of “Van Vogue” is a rambling psycho-rant against…well, who knows. It’s Banks with her voice pitch-shifted down low going on and on for two whole minutes, cracking up at her own ridiculous bravado, and it’s the most interesting new bit on the whole EP. It shows some goddamn personality, which is something the preceding songs are sorely missing.

“212” announced the arrival of some crafty new pop mind that just might turn out to be a particularly genius one, and the recent release of “Fuck Up The Fun” and “Jumanji” – both from an upcoming mixtape called Fantasea – strongly reinforce that notion. 1991 does not.

© Justin Santelli, Music Vice

Internet link: Azealia Banks

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J. Francis

J. Francis is a freelance music critic that sprouted like an unsightly growth from the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area and eventually ended up in Kingston, Ontario. He is a man of deliriously firm, contradictory convictions, with a life-long dream of dismantling high-art/low-art hierarchies. He loves pop music with a passion that many find unsettling and is often mistaken as being somehow ironic or insincere (nothing could be further from the truth). His favourite album is Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell. He knows that you think that's ridiculous. Regardless, he hopes you have a good day.

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