Boots. A fairly bland name for a pretty interesting artist, who has been a silent but effective force in the music industry in the last couple of years. He started his descent onto the music scene with his extensive contributions to Beyoncé’s eponymous 2013 studio album, and has since released some solo material in the form of one mixtape and one EP. Having established himself as a formidable producer, he spread his roots further, spawning a collaboration with Run The Jewels and recently producing the latest EP by FKA Twigs. Now, he brings his first studio album to the table – Aquaria.
The album begins with Brooklyn Gamma, wherein Boots’ frantic, sing-song style of rapping is backed by skittering drum beats and fractured electronic utterances. The track builds to a forceful climax where Boots’ refrain of “Light up the sky” fits in nicely. C.U.R.E effectively showcases Boots’ ability as a producer and beat-maker, and this track’s minimalistic, clinical beat wouldn’t feel out of place on an LP by Run The Jewels. Although these first couple of tracks are interesting to say the least, they already begin to highlight some of the more regrettable features of Boots’ style. For one thing, Boots’ vocals come off as quite strange and grating. Oftentimes, it seems he can’t seem to decide if he wants to sing or rap. Although there are quite a few artists who utilise both vocal techniques very well, Boots’ persistent sitting on the fence is somewhat strange, and the moments where he fully commits to one or the other are far more compelling.
One of these moments is in the dark, near-apocalyptic atmosphere of Oraclies. Ominous, dreary acoustic guitars and sombre singing give way to a driving bassline and hard-hitting beats. Given Boots’ excellent use of melody and great production here, it’s not hard to imagine how much he may have contributed to Beyoncé’s fifth LP. I Run Roulette is another track on the finer end of this album’s spectrum, but suffers from the same lack of melody which plagues many of the LP’s songs. That being said, it does manage to culminate in an interesting anti-solo reminiscent of the more experimental work of Blur or Radiohead.
The aforementioned unmelodic nature of this album is, unfortunately, another of its weaknesses. You’d expect a producer to know the importance of melody and to implement it effectively, yet for all his excellent production skills, Boots too often sacrifices auditory pleasantness for his own bizarre brand of sonic experimentation. It feels as though the album desperately wants to be edgy and dark, but more often seems jolting and disordered. It does frequently feel alien and unnatural, as Boots may have desired, but perhaps not in the way he intended. Rather than being some sublime and surreal cosmic force, Aquaria is, at times, more akin to the little green man from Mars: just as strange, but simply not as compelling or interesting. Indeed, the best songs on the album are those in which Boots allows himself to embrace melody and feeling, and permits the experimentation to reinforce the atmosphere of the song – rather than become its driving force.
Yet, it seems there is hope for the quality of Boots’ future work. The album ends with the beautiful Still – a track which is, in my opinion, the best on the album. This song manages to strike the perfect balance between all the qualities Boots has seemingly been trying to achieve with Aquaria: darkness and light; ethereality and earthliness; avant-garde and melody. If Boots can maintain this balance with future releases, hone his ability to write some good songs and perhaps work on his lyrics a little, this inchoate work could be the start of a great career.