Critical Circuit #3 – September 8, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

It’s so easy for me to get cynical about Marvel, seeing as they have gotten in a very comfortable formula with their content, but damn is it nice watching action movies in theaters again. While Shang-Chi is still clearly a Marvel film, it benefits by not feeling the need to connect to the larger cinematic universe. It also skips plenty of the traditional origin story tropes in favor for a story that starts off with great action and rarely slows down. The fact I can recall three great action sequences pretty vividly after almost a week is a great sign that they did something right. It also cannot be overstated how cool of a villain Tony Leung was in this. Nothing too flashy, just playing a very down-to-earth bad dude, which feels like a nice change of pace for Marvel. This all being said, Shang-Chi isn’t without its flaws. For one, there was one throwback to a prior MCU film that was entirely forced and offered no purpose to the rest of the film. Also, despite being a very charismatic protagonist, Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi did fall into the background a few too many times for me. These gripes aren’t going to turn off fans of the MCU at this point, who should rightfully be happy with this new addition to their universe, and there is so much going right here I have no choice but to give this a solid recommendation.

Drake – Certified Lover Boy

I am always going into a Drake album with the highest of hopes. He is one of the most successful artists of all time, I want to like his music. But he just makes it so hard sometimes.  I don’t think Certified Lover Boy is a “bad” album per se, just a totally unnecessary one. I was hoping for something a little looser from Drake, considering the tongue-in-cheek album title and cover, but instead it just felt like we got another helping of what we’ve heard from him for a decade now. Songs about girls who need to start acting right, people who need to stop wronging him, etc. I guess you could say songs like “Girls Like Girls” and “Way 2 Sexy” are trying to have fun but it doesn’t sound like Drake got the memo there because he sounds so unengaged on these tracks. There are a few standouts when you dig into the tracklist. “No Friends In The Industry” has a bit of energy, “Fair Trade” is a solid Travis Scott collaboration, and “You Only Live Twice” maximizes its Lil Wayne and Rick Ross features. The rest is either falling short or not impressing compared to what we’ve heard on every other bloated Drake project to this point. It might not be his worst album, but it easily his least essential.

Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Intovert

I was introduced to Little Simz in 2019 when she put in one of the best hip hop albums of the year with GREY Area, a short album that was packed with honest, conscious content. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert follows up this record just as I wanted it to, by taking that potential and expanding it into a larger project with more fleshed out production. All throughout this project, whether it’s the grand orchestral “Introvert,” the soulful “Little Q, Pt. 2” or the funky “Point and Kill,” Simz is accompanied by the finest sounds available to her. And while the sounds are varied, nothing ever feels out of place or outside Simz’ range. In fact, she is the star of each track here. With over an hour of content and minimal features, Simz proves she is hungry to prove herself and prove herself she does. Like on her last album, she is not afraid to get personal here. We get some deep insight about her past trauma as well as her current struggles. It all comes together in such a beautiful way that it will undoubtedly fill the void for anyone who was underwhelmed by Donda and Certified Lover Boy. This will easily go down as not just one of 2021’s best hip hop releases, but best albums period. I cannot recommend this more.

Turnstile – Glow On

So, shocking enough, I am loving the most acclaimed punk album of the year. But honestly, it’s hard to put this in the same conversation with a lot of my favorite punk albums of the past few years. While its punchy riffs and broad lyrics make this undoubtedly punk, there is a real experimental, melodic edge to Glow On that I cannot get enough of. It varies its sound up plenty, showing the band’s more eclectic variety of influences that all come together in a short, powerful package. Look no further than the two Blood Orange collaborations to see this band is willing to take some risks. It’s the kind of album that I feel you can both be a snob about and enjoy with your brain off, a breed of album we get too rarely and should appreciate when it comes.

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