Tuesday, 23 April 2024
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Asake Doubles Down On Soul And Euphoria On ‘Work Of Art’ [Album Review]

Last month, when Work Of Art got announced—it sent the internet of Afrobeats loving demographic into a frenzy and rightly so. MMWTV was a sonic rollercoaster of Amapiano fusion, Hip Hop cadences and Fuji infusion. So getting a follow-up in less than a year was ethereal. But the one inevitable question beckoned. Could he top MMWTV?

Asake's "Work of Art" album cover.
Asake’s “Work of Art” album cover.

Mr. Money With The Vibe is going to be lauded as a classic for years to come. Matter of fact, it’s already one as far as this writer is concerned. Not only was it a very cohesive album that saw the artist explore various soundscapes—Hip-Hop, Afrobeat, R&B, Alternative/Folk, House—whilst tying it together on the Amapiano backdrop of log drums and shakers. It also has crazy replay value, as a result of the refined musicality and how multi layered the music and production is. It’s also become the staple for the current era of Afrobeats. The most prominent sounds in Afropop currently originates from MMWTV.

So it has the quality, the staying power on the charts and the sonic impact also. All the makings of a classic. Which totally makes the worry of fans and casuals alike justifiable. Should Asake be releasing another album so early and can it even top Mr. Money? As for the former question, it won’t be the first time a new generation act capitalized on the immensely positive reception of their debut. Asake’s label mate, Fireboy DML dropped his sophomore album, Apollo 9 months after his classic debut album, Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps.

So from a momentum aspect, it’s not entirely an unprecedented feat. As for the million dollar question however, can he top Mr. Money? After multiple listens since the album dropped, this writer believes he has. Yep, Asake has triumphed over the sophomore slump and Work Of Art is indeed a better album than MMWTV. And how did he achieve this impossible feat? By making subtle tweaks and changes to the formular of the predecessor album and doubling down on the soul and euphoria of it.

tracklist

From the album opener, Olorun one can start gleaning the subtle differences in the sonic atmosphere of this LP. The cello and violin riffs aren’t as prominent and piano keys are more dominant in their place. The shakers are milder and crowd vocals are also integrated as part of the instrumentation, as opposed to the call and response format they were mostly used on MMWTV. These little changes reinvent Asake’s sound, preventing it from sounding stale whilst still retaining all the best elements of it soul, groove and euphoria.

On the song, Asake is simply awarding all the praise to God and testifying that his success is not by his doing. The choral segments are ramped up to its highest and the drums are stripped back to emphasize the soul of the beautiful, differing notes of vocals stacked against each other. It sets the perfect mood for the album, so Awodi can roll in seamlessly. Trumpet synths take the lead on the beat, that has faint Konto influences in the drum arrangement.

The log drums here are also softer and they permeate the beat at regular intervals, as Asake indulges in some healthy braggadocio and reminds us that he’s had the greatest breakout year ever for an Afrobeats artist and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Despite the fact that his writing on the song leans heavily on Yoruba proverbs, that might not be comprehensible to every person familiar with Yoruba—not to talk of people who don’t understand the language—Asake’s mastery of delivery through vocal technique helps to convey the sentiment quite well.

When 2:30 rolls in, it sounds even better as a part of the album. The log drums are at their most aggressive on the Hip-Hop oriented single, and they morph into talking drums on the second verse of the song. It’s just pure artistic ingenuity that results in a decision like that and hats off to Blaisebeatz for conjuring such brilliance. Majority of the praise would be heaped on Magicsticks as he produced 80% of the album and rightly so, but the few tracks Blaise worked on—he left an indelible mark of quality also.

Sombre piano keys permeate the beat of Sunshine, where Asake deftly interpolates lines off Lighthouse Family’s Ocean Drive into a romantic context. Like his previous love songs on MMWTV, Asake is a matter-of-fact and a no nonsense lover. He isn’t wailing in the woes of heartbreak or swooning over the most inconsequential details. He’s however stating affirmatively what matters and assuring his lover that he’ll be there no matter what.

Mogbe is a party starter and one for the dance floors, yet it’s another soulful pop record with euphoric and emotive sentiments. ‘Baby je ka lo ra wa and forget all the trauma.’ Asake beckons to his lover, imploring her to lose herself in the moment and hit the delirious heights of pleasure to ease the pain. At face value, it might sound like a toxic line but Asake isn’t in anyway implying that he’s using her. The ‘using’ is both ways, mutual and in the Yoruba context even more intimate than its English interpretation. The adlibs in the final 20 seconds in the song are just simply spiritual and elevate the song to another level entirely.

Walking poetry, I am greater. I’m a work of art, Basquiat” Asake sings on Basquiat, attesting to the fact that he’s the point of reference in the album title. He is Mr. Money With The Vibe and also a Work Of Art. He goes on another impressive melodic rapping run on the second verse of the song, that’s almost as tight as his cadence on 2:30. At this point, it’s important to note that his writing and overall delivery have become even better since his last album.

Like 2:30, Amapiano also sounds better on the album and when you realize Olamide is the only guest artist on the album and yet there is no underwhelming point on the LP, despite Asake doing all the heavylifting himself, it makes you appreciate his generational talent more. What’s Up My G is another party starter that has Asake in his spending, debauchery bag. The song evokes imagery of a sophisticated, elitist Owambe party with exclusive attendance and expensive liquor.

Log drums are the backbone on the production of I Believe, although it isn’t an Amapiano record. “E get why wey dem dey call me landlord” Asake sings, bigging himself once again and reminding everyone of his infallible status on the charts. Introduction is also more of the same, except spiced with hedonism and proverbial musings. Yeah, only Asake could sing about a woman’s backside and also drop philosophical statements on the same record and make it work.

Remember is a top 3 song on the album, alongside Sunshine and Basquiat. The writing on this song evokes the most nostalgia and euphoria, as Asake asks his lover to reminisce about the good ol’ days when things were much simpler. The violin riffs are moodier than ever to match the emotive atmosphere on the song and the Fuji inflections are probably at their strongest here also. It’s such a beautiful song that would undoubtedly go down as one of the best love songs of the year.

Lonely At The Top has Highlife infusion and is a much needed and refreshing deviation from the Amapiano-fusion environment of the album. Despite the self explanatory sentiment in the title, Asake can’t help himself from waxing poetic about his lover in the second verse of the song. This is one impressive feature about his writing. He is one of the few artists that can tie loosely related narratives on a song and make it work.

On Great Guy, Asake paints vivid imagery about the luxurious lifestyle of a superstar and life on the fast lane. And of course, it’s not an Asake song if it isn’t peppered with some philosophical musings in the hook. The transition to Yoga is so seamless and one of the best executed transitions this writer has heard this year. The song also has optimal placement on the album as it’s the perfect album closer, on a sonic and thematic level. When Asake belts out “Vibration” on the closing seconds of the song and inherently the album, it’s a monument point for the potency of the album of making you feel so many emotions.

If Mr. Money With The Vibe was a groovy, party rollercoaster that made you want to dance till your legs fall off, Work Of Art is an emotional rollercoaster infused with so much soul, so much emotion—whilst still retaining the groove of Asake’s best pop records. As an album experience, it takes you through a wider range of emotions than Mr. Money With The Vibe and that’s why its simply a better album. Asake reworked the formular with some slight changes and doubled down on the emotions.

Whether it would hit the heights of its MMWTV, remains to be seen as its predecessor is slightly more pop and mainstream. And there are also quiet whispers of Amapiano fatigue settling in, although there is no plausible evidence of that as Amapiano fusion songs are still dominating the charts and Asake’s brand of Amapiano is very unique anyways. As far as another timeless body of work goes, Asake delivered and has already set himself on the path of greatness and a discography that’s going to be one for the ages.

Hats off to him and everyone involved. This is another great triumph.

Verdict:

Sonic Cohesion: 1.8/2
Unharried Transitions: 1.6/2
Expansive Production: 1.8/2
Songwriting: 2/2
Topical Progression/Optimal Track Sequencing: 2/2

Total: 9.2/10.

This review is written by T.J. Martins, an Album Talks writer.

Listen To ‘Work Of Art’ Here:

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