Album Review : Travis Scott - Astroworld (2018)
I first became interested in Travis Scott because of his name. It was funny to me that someone could make a career in hip-hop with the name of a country music recording artist *. My mild amusement quickly left place to genuine enthusiasm when I heard his mixtape Days Before Rodeo. Scott is one of the quirkiest, most creative beatmakers out there, a standout curator and not a bad performing artist himself. He's one of these guys who's not afraid to push the envelope. While I was slightly underwhelmed by his last album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, it didn't stop me from giving Astroworld a spin.
And that shit was thoroughly good. Travis Scott is back, ladies and gentlemen.
Astroworld is psychedelic, multilayered and, for the most part, unpredictable, just like we love Travis Scott's music to be. I know it's a cardinal sin to compare rock music to hip-hop, but it's the closest thing you'll get experience an early Pink Floyd album while listening to trap. It opens up with a scorching banger in Stargazing, which has these wildly different segments that had me checking Spotify to see if I was listened to the same song. Stargazing has this break, right in the middle where it lets go of the spacey aesthetic and the autotuned musings to become somewhat an old school southern hip-hop song. It fucks with your mind.
Travis Scott's talent as a musical curator really shines on Astroworld. He's got these grand ideas that he nurtures into existence by putting the right people together, like on the song Wake Up. He had this vision of a dreamlike hypersexual anthem about having sex with a beauty icon, so he got The Weeknd to collaborate. The two men are dating respectively Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid, so Scott got someone who understood his passion for the subject to feature on the song and the result is steaming hot.
Sicko Mode, which features Drake , is one of the most straightforward hip-hop songs on Astroworld. But it's one of the best. Again, Travis Scott's grand idea of what a low-key banger would be shines through his keen choices of samples (Give me the Loot, by Biggie) and guests. Another high moment was Frank Ocean's feature on Carousel. His distorted, emotional singing on the hook put forward the idea of psychedelia as a life-altering, emancipating process. Great hip-hop musicians know how to surround themselves and Travis Scott's choices on Astroworld spectacularly complement his vision.
I had no major issue with Astroworld, but it's a little bit of an overkill. Especially towards the end. The last three songs could've been skipped without the record suffering from it. I was not a fan of the intense ballad Stop Trying to be God either, which features my eardrums' mortal enemy James Blake. My favorite part of Astroworld stretched from Skeleton (track #7) to Yosemite (track #12), peaking with the excellent, eerie and paranoid banger 5% Tint. Astroworld builds up to these 5 songs on pure, exciting psychedelic trap bliss, but it kind of overstays its welcome after that. No big deal, it's hard to begrudge Astroworld after such powerful moments.
Astroworld was a theme park in Houston that was demolished in 2005. That's how the album feels, like tweaked out melancholia over the powerful moments you'll never get to live again. And it works beautifully. It'a an enchanted voyage at the heart of something that doesn't exist anymore. I know it's hard to grasp when explained like this, but if you've ever been to an amusement park and experienced strong emotions, you'll instantly get the vibe of Astroworld. It's melancholic, but not melodramatic. Psychedelic without being over-the-top weird. It's an exercise in creativity and precision, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
* I know Travis' real name is Jacques Webster, thank you.