MUSIC

REVIEW | ‘Swim’ by Towkio takes too many pages from Chance the Rapper’s gospel

The newest single by the exciting Chicago rapper muffles his talent

Towkio has proven that he has huge potential but "Swim" is a safe single that follows the sound of others.

Chance and Towkio (Facebook)

Towkio comes from Chicago's SaveMoney group—with the likes of Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa—and with a couple of new singles he's trying to find his own way to the heights that they've reached. After a self-released debut mixtape, .WAV Theory, and a collection of singles and features, Towkio is on his way to releasing a new LP: World Wide .WAV. He's already broken through with tracks like "Heaven Only Knows" and "Drift" but his latest single, "Swim," plays it safe. It's the closest thing to Chance's sound since Towkio's feature on Chance's own Juke Jam," and that's the wrong move.

Towkio (Preston Oshita) sounds a little uncertain on his first lines until the church organ backs him up and carries him through the first verse. He finds the rhythm but not all of the words yet, with some forced lines that try to be clever: "Said the Earth controls the moon so we control the wave"—not sure if that's true.

The choir-singers kick in after the verse and suddenly it's a Chance song (just compare it to Chance's latest track). The chorus isn't bad at all—but it's so similar that you can't help but notice. "Heaven Only Knows" admits Chance's influence with a feature by the Coloring Book indie hero (who wins that song with his verse) and does it well. But there's following the new trend of gospel hip hop—Chance, Kanye, DJ Khaled—and then there's imitating it.

It's the second verse that redeems the song with upbeat bass and a new burst of energy. The lines are tighter and better-written: "I can see everything coming to me / like oh my goodness / I see world tours, fast cars and big bootys / But I'm just focused on my contribution, my contribution / And if I die tonight just promise me that you'll listen to it." That's the flow he's capable of and it's missing from most of the track.

The organ is still there backed by a beat and that locks it all together. The chorus sounds better with the energy of the beat, too, and the song's first half would glide better with it there.

Towkio in Paris (Facebook)

"Drift," a single from earlier this year, is a totally different style of hip hop, without a hint of the Chance-church influence. The drums are fast and the lyrics sound like they're from a different rapper if you listen to "Swim" first. "I don't know them, you know I will not pretend / My only friend the ATM . . . Just a kid, at my cousin crib like the Fresh Prince / Wrist in the pot, eatin' ramen like it's Ruth Chris." The lyrics are denser with rhymes in every line over a solid rhythm that drives along with the wild beat. Between the back-and-forth with the background singers and the sound effects in the verses, "Drift" sounds like a party and, next to it, "Swim" struggles to keep up.

World Wide .WAV is set to drop this month and you can hear another single off of it, "Hot Sh*t," right now. After two EPs and a mixtape, Towkio's debut album (recorded with Rick Rubin) is going to show off his decision on the future of his sound. He has a chance to take his gospel influences further and find a place in the current evolution of hip hop. This writer's hoping for more like "Drift," where the lyrics don't lean on the music and the music doesn't lean on everyone else.

Listen to "Swim" on Apple Music and Spotify.

Follow Towkio on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


Tom Twardzik is a writer covering music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust. He also contributes travel writing to Journiest and financial tips to Paypath. Read more on his page and follow on Twitter.


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REVIEW | Wolf Alice deliver the best rock album of the year with 'Visions of a Life'

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MUSIC

REVIEW | Wolf Alice deliver the best rock album of the year with 'Visions of a Life'

The London band's stunning sophomore album captures all of rock in the 21st century

Visions of a Life is a career-defining album and it's only Wolf Alice's second.

Sometimes an artist nails the sound of a moment or a track embodies a sweeping trend, and these artists and songs find their place in history as "sounds-of." Wolf Alice's second LP, Visions of a Life, captures the heart of all of rock and roll in the 2000s, '10s and maybe beyond. You have to hear this.

Wolf Alice. (Facebook)

It's all there, from the breezy, tone-setting opening, "Heavenward," to the incredible, shape-shifting title track/closer. The band rips through the sharp riffs of "Yuk Foo" and "Formidable Cool," delivers crisp hooks in "Beautifully Unconventional" and "Space & Time," crafts warm, weightless melodies in "Don't Delete the Kisses" and "After the Zero Hour." This is an album of balance that doesn't sacrifice energy or exploration. Somehow, the band has put together a painting of the modern rock scene where it's all on the same canvas, happening at the same time.

The (deserved) success of "Don't Delete the Kisses" as an early single was an excellent trick, a tease that might have fooled you into expecting an album of minimalism, echoes and like sounds. And if you'd heard "Yuk Foo" when it appeared as the first single, the shock was even greater. Album opener "Heavenward," on the other hand, is a song full of music, brimming with it, opening the curtains to an album that plays like scenes on a stage. The drama is there, and the conflict, the desire, the comedy and the action. "Heavenward," with its swells of harmony and quiet verses, envelopes you in the warm mood of the song—a disarming lull before the violence.

The band's punk roots rip through in "Yuk Foo," a raging guitar track with cathartic screams and a masterful overload of sounds. Joel Amey's frenetic drumming and Ellie Rowsell's fierce singing—"You bore me to death / No I don't give a sh*t!—cap a song of fearless energy. The soundwall builds and builds until it cuts out to leave only Rowsell's hoarse scream to close the song.

"Planet Hunter" and "Sky Musings" work as a two-part rocket launch. The first builds and swells until its superheavy finale riff drives it through the atmosphere and into the quiet second-stage, now whispering, face to face with the sublimity, the consequences, the danger. "If we crash, if we crash, imagine that," sings Rowsell. The stakes are suddenly higher than ever and her lyrics become frantic.

From "Formidable Cool" to "Space & Time," another story: mistake and redemption, pain and healing. "Hope my body gets better," Rowsell sings, "Do I mean my body or my mind?" The songs of Visions of a Life wrestle with feelings and questions and they do it with intensity. Rowsell, with her cofounder and guitarist, Joff Oddie, drummer, Joel Amey and bassist, Theo Ellis, attacks these beautifully written songs as if she won't be satisfied with anything less than all of the answers.

"Sadboy," "St. Purple & Green" and "After the Zero Hour" take stock of the narrative so far. These are expert songs. The sudden beauty of "After the Zero Hour" is like the echo of tragedy, when the future peeks through the shadow of hopelessness.

And then, Wolf Alice arrive at the finale: a title track that's massive and thrilling and cathartic and triumphant. Just shy of eight minutes, it's an epic piece worthy of Zeppelin with the polished heaviness of Queens of the Stone Age. The riffs are monstrous, the vocals are soaring and the movement of the song is as dramatic as a symphony. In the middle of the song, in one of the most beautiful melodies on the album, Rowsell sings her victory: "I heard that journeys end in lovers' meetings but my journey ends when my heart stops beating, I'm leaving!"

Wolf Alice are touring the Europe and Asia through November before landing in Brooklyn to play Brooklyn Steel on December 4. They'll only play five U.S. cities before heading back to Europe, so click here to see the full tour and buy tickets on their website. In a few years might be saying, "I saw the biggest rock band in the world."

Listen to Visions of a Life on Apple Music and Spotify.

Follow Wolf Alice on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


Tom Twardzik is a writer covering music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust. He also contributes travel writing to Journiest and financial tips to Paypath. Read more on his page and follow on Twitter.


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Arts

Enjoy Broadway's best magic tricks in 'Charlie & the Chocolate Factory'

REVIEW | The new musical uses illusions and special effects to recreate Wonka's factory onstage

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The jokes and songs are for kids but Wonka's stage tricks will make anyone smile.

Broadway is now a contender for the sweetest place on Earth, thanks to a wondrous new musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1964 novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Starring a hilarious Christian Borle as Willy Wonka and with music by Marc Shaiman of Hairspray, the show brings the magic of Willy Wonka's factory to the live stage in clever and fun ways.

You probably know the Golden Ticket story from the Gene Wilder movie or the Johnny Depp remake, or maybe you've even read the novel. As is often the problem with remakes, the Charlie Bucket finds a Golden Ticket pre-story is considerably less fun the third time around. The show tries to make up for this with a ultra-goofy Grandpa Joe (John Rubinstein) and his three elderly backup jokesters, but it's still a bit boring waiting for Charlie and the others to at last reach the Wonka factory.

It takes all of Act One for that to happen but when Willy Wonka finally takes the stage, his wacky, hyper, exciting presence saves the show and, ultimately, makes sitting through the first half worth it.

Christian Borle's performance is inspired more by Robin Williams and Nathan Lane than Gene Wilder. He is far from Johnny Depp's low-key psychopathic Wonka and prefers over-the-top jokes and caricature impressions to subtle strangeness or quiet creeping. There is no glint of murderous intent in his eyes, or descent into hell; instead, Borle's performance is aimed directly at the kids in the audience. Slapstick, goofy and light, this Wonka's jokes come straight from a career character-actor, and a good one.

Borle's credits include the original Not Dead Fred/Herbert/French Guard in Spamalot, a Tony-winning William Shakespeare in Something Rotten and a Tony-winning Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher. In Charlie, he is the star and the engine of the fun.

The music is average—it'll please the kids in the audience but it's nothing new. However, Broadway's Wonka factory loses none of its magic to a lack of Hollywood CGI. The stage show is full of clever tricks and illusions to match its movie forebears, like when Bad Child #4, Mike Teavee (an obnoxious juvenile delinquent obsessed with teenage technology: smartphone, drones, etc. The American Gods Technical Boy, minus the vape), jumps into Wonka's machine and sends himself into the TV, miniaturized. After dancing from screen to screen during an Oompa-Loompa song like he's in a Blue Man Group show, Mike's mom pulls a squealing, squirming hand-held Mike out from behind the screen and carries him offstage to the hysterical laughter of all of the kids and many of the adults.

The Oompa-Loompa's are another hilarious illusion, similar to an act that appeared on America's Got Talent only a few weeks ago. Each bad child's demise happens with special effects and fun magic tricks that save the show from its slow first act. When the abridged ending comes and Charlie puts on his purple jacket, the feeling of wonder comes from the show's magic and the goofiness of its lead. You forgive the first act because of the second and wander out of the theatre like you're wandering out of a place of magic into the un-magical streets of Midtown.

See Charlie & the Chocolate Factory at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

Follow the show on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Watch a behind-the-scenes clip below:


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