4/5 stars

 

There’s nothing better than watching an incredible band ascend to fame, which is exactly what Chicago-based Kids These Days is doing. With diverse influences, their debut album Traphouse Rock, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, provides an array of musical styles. This album showcases the band’s remarkable talents, ranging from the sultry, jazzy brass to the soulful voices of lead singers Liam Cunningham and Macie Stewart and the rapping of VicMensa.
After the release of their first EP Hard Times, combining intricate funk and jazz melodies with thoughtful rapping, Kids These Days began to work closely with Tweedy to help them continue developing their unusual yet remarkable sound. From this partnership came seven songs off of their debut record Traphouse Rock, an album rife with social commentary, political messages and the same funky and jazzy beats that make this band so great. Traphouse Rock has a very unified sound from track to track.
The album starts off with “(Intro)mental,” a dark, mysterious musical number with jazzy piano and electric guitar tunes straight out of the early ’90s. The next full track is “GHETTO.,” which is what I would assume a rager in New Orleans would sound like during Jazz Fest. The standout track  is filled with energy from both the dynamic music and Mensa’s rapping. “Doo-Wah” is a peaceful and brassy jazz piece full of emotion, featuring Cunningham’s lead vocals with Stewart as backup.
The tone of the song is highly climactic and prepares the listener for the next song, “Don’t Harsh My Mellow,” as they blend together seamlessly. As the lead single from the album, it is meant to be a social commentary on the Chicago teachers strike. This song is incredibly spirited and full of life, although it does have an eerie tone and sounds like an early Lupe song with some punk influences.
“Talk 2 You” is a tender, jazzy rap full of blaring horns. Mensa finds his groove early in the song and keeps up his flow throughout. Stewart’s compassionate vocals are featured toward the end of the song, adding to its heartfelt nature.
The rest of the album is amazing, too, though much less coherent than the first half. “Don’t Fall In Love” starts the second half of the album on a slightly scattered note, setting the tone for the rest of the album. In spite of its funky rhythm and soul, it’s hard to really feel the groove of this song. The rest of the album follows this trend: The different elements of each song don’t seem to match up 100 percent.
“L’Afrique” is the highlight of the second half, with its breezy guitar melody and Stewart’s smooth as silk vocals. Mensa’s rapping peaks with this song, rapping perfectly in sync with the music. It’s easy to space out to this song, spellbound by its soft beauty.
Traphouse Rock is a standout among recent musical efforts. This ensemble band proves that if you have a vision and the talent to back it up, you can do big things. There aren’t many jazz/funk/pop/hip-hop/R&B acts out there, but Kids These Days easily tops the list.

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