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Arts & Culture, Reviews

070 Shake’s first studio album examines emotional, relational turmoil

Experimental hip-hop artist plays with sonic dimensions of personal expression

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 4, 2020

In 070 Shake’s debut album, “Modus Vivendi,” the rising artist employs sanguine, dreamy studio production while lyrically reflecting on relationships. But, the 22-year-old still seems to be polishing how studio experimentation can serve her genre-less introspection.

Released Jan. 17, the GOOD Music-produced record showcases the highly anticipated voice heard first on Kanye West’s “Ghost Town” in 2018. On West’s track “Ye,” Shake sings “I put my hand on the stove, to see if I still bleed,” with a ghastly, tender sense of emotionality.

It’s that same fervent rawness that Shake brings into “Modus Vivendi.” The album title is a Latin phrase that translates to “way of life,” which can most obviously be understood as a reference to the revelatory nature of Shake’s writing.

“Modus Vivendi” is far from a musical diary entry though, as Shake’s personal candor saturates her tracks with resonance. In an interview with Vogue, Shake spoke to what she hopes her music can do for listeners: “I just want to make people feel something. Open people’s minds, save people. Do what I’m supposed to do. I need to reach people; I’m not really doing this for myself,” she said. Through production and vocal transparency, “Modus Vivendi” reflects upon the inharmonious relationships that seem to haunt many. The opening track, “Don’t Break the Silence,” serves as a sort of audible sunrise to the album. Shake’s enchanting, guttural voice climbs atop an optimistic synth as she speaks to an assumed ex-lover, “I need your love (I need your) / Need your love / Say she miss me / But she say she also need time.” The act of desire makes it so that human relationships can’t help but be inclined to tumultuousness. So, the lover is elusive for Shake — always in sight, but slightly out of grasp.

This desire for intimacy persists in “The Pines,” her modern romantic adaptation of the nineteenth-century folk tune, “In the Pines.” Shake leaves her comfort zone of hip-hop for a Cocteau Twins-esque rock — her ethereal Gregorian-chant-like exploration of desire is preluded by electric guitar and snares. Later, in “Divorce,” Shake’s characteristic autotuned voice ascends over percussion. Over a more minimalist production than in previous songs, her voice becomes incandescent. She sings, “Gemini, see both sides / Trade this ring for peace inside / … / Me and you, we were one / That was once, but now we’re two,” lamenting on the liminal nature of union and the arbitrariness of marriage. Again, Shake cultivates harmonious sound to reflect on cacophonous relationships.

Though the glorious production usually elicits the feeling of connection that Shake seeks in her music, her authenticity begins to feel muddled under orchestral sound in certain moments. For instance, on “Daydreamin,” over-experimentation in production slips into sounding lethargic. Shake raps, “Like my ends, baby girl, we need to split up / She said, ‘I get crazy when I start to get my drink on’ / Ah, told the bitch I wasn’t fucked up off the liquor,” but her emotional personal anecdote is quieted as the production grows belligerent. The Bladee-adjacent autotune that works to Shake’s advantage in other tracks renders her voice lost. That being said, the young artist demonstrates clarity and sophistication which far surpass that of slurred sound.

Shake’s unforgiving retellings of the personal is refreshing, poignant and didactic, and they deserve room to breathe. The bright melodies of “Modus Vivendi”’s early songs feel like a gift of vulnerability from Shake, and it is when she balances production and vocal display that her tender message becomes incandescent and readable.

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