Review: “Head in the Clouds II”

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“88Rising”by thecomeupshow is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This past Friday the Asian hip-hop and pop record label 88rising released “Head In The Clouds II, a new album featuring many members of the label including the likes of Rich Brian, Joji and NIKI. This album is a sequel in name to the group’s 2018 project titled “Head In The Clouds.”

In terms of sound and style, however, these two projects are vastly different. I found many songs from the original to be airy, summery, and meant to invoke the nostalgia of hanging out on the beach with friends, which the album cover seems to support. Songs like “Midsummer Madness,” “History” and “Head in the Clouds” all have this sound. This isn’t to say that the album didn’t have bangers. With the likes of “Red Rubies” and “Beam, which featured Playboi Carti, the album had plenty of bangers.

While there are also plenty of bangers on “Head In The Clouds II,” they differ heavily in style. If I had to describe the sound of this album in one word I would call it futuristic, and judging by the cover art, which features what appears to be a robot lady on the beach, that is definitely the style they were going for. The production on this album uses a heavy amount of synthesizers and auto-tune. For instance, on the opening track titled “These Nights,” , Rich Brian’s usually low, deep voice is raised in pitched  significantly, creating this futuristic sound. 

The song “La La Lost You” is a good example of the synth-heavy production. The synth-pop mixed with a little bit of trap-style production fits nicely with NIKI’s voice. The production is quite enjoyable on these tracks and on most of the other tracks as well. While it leans on auto-tune and synths, the production varies enough to keep you engaged for the whole project. 

One of the biggest highlights on this album is the song “Walking,” which features Swae Lee and Major Lazer. Swae Lee elevates almost every track he’s featured on, and this one is no different. His melodic vocals combined with Joji’s distinct but equally hypnotic voice on the track create a smooth, relaxing song that is great to vibe to.

“Just Used Music Again,” one of the singles from the album, was another standout for me. The club-ready EDM style is not something I expected to hear on an album consisting primarily of rap and pop artists, but it too is another great vibey track.

If you are looking for a love song on this project, the track “I Love You 3000 II” is the best on the album – and yes, that is an “Avengers: Endgame” reference). This song is similar to the sound of the original “Head In The Clouds” album, with an airy acoustic playing under Stephanie Poetri and Jackson Wang’s soft vocals as they go back and forth about a possible proposal. 

For those who are wanting to skip straight to the pure trap bangers, “Hopscotch” is what you are looking for. The production is pretty standard – heavy bass with drums that will get your head bobbing. The best part of this track is the vocal performances. Classic Rich Brian comes out on the final verse of the song, but the standout is Joji, who goes outside his comfort zone to do a melodic rap on this song. He starts out his verse in this high-pitch tone, but halfway through he lowers his voice, showing his range. The flows on the track are very simple, but they are entertaining enough and mesh well enough with the beat to keep listeners engaged.

There isn’t really a bad song on this album. The only problem with the album is that it doesn’t have much substance. Most of the songs, while enjoyable during the listen, fail to make a lasting impact and leave the listener feeling empty. The production is occasionally standard and boring, like on Hopscotch. The lyrics for most of the album are very bland as well. 

If you are looking for compelling songwriting, I would not recommend this album. During my first listen, I found myself nodding my head to many of the songs and vibing with most of them. After I finished my first listen, I could barely remember many of the tracks, as none of them really left an imprint on me. This album focuses more on vibes than substance, which hurts it in the long run.

Overall, “Head In The Clouds II” is a fun album. The production is solid, but the standouts are the members of 88rising. Rich Brian, Joji and Niki, who I didn’t talk about much but who are huge to  this project, carried the album. However, even the Higher Brothers and August 08 had some standout moments. This album is not groundbreaking by any means, and the songwriting really holds it back. While the production is solid, it doesn’t really stand out much. Despite all this, the album is full of fun, well-crafted songs that fans of all musical genres can listen to and enjoy.

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