Hello, I’m MusiCommentator, and summer has been coming to a sharp end. In my state right now, it is 33 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that winter will soon be upon us. But, before I officially let go of my glorious summer, let’s give it one last hurrah by reviewing the newest 88rising album “Head In The Clouds II”.
Anyone who reads this blog a lot knows I am somewhat of a die-hard 88rising fan. I still judge their music based on certain criteria like I do with a lot of the other music to come across, but I’d be damned to let a new 88rising project (or a project from one of their signees) slip from my fingers! For those unaware, 88rising is an Asian, multimedia outlet that specializes most as a music label, containing popular artists like Rich Brian and Joji on their label. I have featured the label multiple times on this blog, including a review of some of my favorite songs from the label, a concert review, and a couple of “Song Of The Week” entries on Lexie Liu and Rich Brian, not to mention a glowing review of their last “Head In The Clouds” album (which got featured on my Top 10 BEST Albums Of 2018 list along with Rich Brian’s “Amen” and AUGUST 08’s “FATHER”). So, it would be an understatement to say that I was pretty excited for this album to come out. Does it live up to this hype? Well, let’s see by going through each of the songs!
#1. These Nights (with Rich Brian & CHUNG HA)
The album starts off providing summer vibes just like the last album, but on this song, the “vibes” feel much more relaxed and calming, like a brisk travel down a beach with a sunset in the background (like the album cover implies). On this opening track, Rich Brian and Korean singer CHUNG HA both share platitudes of romance, obviously still bringing it back into the summer themes. Rich Brian is amazing on this track, with his voice being modulated and pitch shifted to sound like something from Tyler, the Creator’s “IGOR”. This style works well for him and blends in with the atmosphere of the song. CHUNG HA also provides a good verse, but her singing sometimes sounds off, mainly when she dips down into her lower register (like a couple of the times when she sang “me” or “see” towards the beginning of her verse). Still, this is a strong opener for the album!
#2. Strange Land (with NIKI & Phum Viphurit)
The album continues to stay strong with this next song! Upon first listen, I wasn’t a big fan of this track, but upon further inspection of the lyrics, I kind of fell in love with it. With a sharp tonal shift from the last track, this song focuses on the mental turmoils one feels about being famous or a traveler (like a touring musician would be) while in love with someone. The instrumental work here is gorgeous, filled with soft bells and gentle guitars, but the lyrics are even more beautiful. NIKI and Phum portray the above-stated message of this song with empathetic lyrics that sting the heart, such as “And I’m savin’ all the bold lines/I’ll say ’em while you sleep” and “In a strange land, with no plans/Surrounded by doors, yeah/I can’t find myself anymore/With foreign people, you’re my temple/I want things like they were before”. This is definitely a track I will be returning to in the future!
#3. Need Is Your Love (with Joji & GENERATIONS from EXILE)
Here is where we dip in quality a little bit. This track is about the artists on here crooning for a woman’s love, all over an instrumental that emulates some ’70s disco and ’80s pop tropes. There are certainly some good things about this track. Firstly, Joji’s singing on here feels strongly improved compared to some of his work in the past, especially on the bridge. Also, Joji and GENERATIONS, from the K-Pop group EXILE, do have a lot of chemistry, their voices mixing well with one another. But, there are things that hinder this track from greatness. The song is quite short, only featuring one verse, a bridge, and two renditions of the chorus. This track easily could have been fleshed out a bit. Also, compared to the first two tracks, it’s just not very captivating. The lyrics do not do much to differentiate itself from any other pop song about needing love (except for some for some of the Korean thrown in by GENERATIONS), and it doesn’t stick around long enough to leave a very big impression. So, this is far from one of the worst songs on the project, but I don’t see myself coming back to it like I did with a lot of the songs on the first “Head In The Clouds” project.
#4. Tequila Sunrise (with Jackson Wang, Higher Brothers, AUGUST 08, & Goldlink)
Luckily, the album shoots back up in quality with this song. This track uses an upbeat, trap instrumental to let the artists talk about hooking up with a girl. AUGUST 08 sings a summery chorus that is too easy to get stuck in your head. When it comes to the verses, I had never heard of Jackson Wang before, but he proves himself to be serviceable with this song. He sings well, and his lyrics perfectly fit the tone of the song. Masiwei and DZknow from the Higher Brothers also appear on this track, who show a surprising amount of chemistry with the beat, with Maisiwei performing some vocal inflections and punch-ins I have not heard him attempt before and DZknow using his singing voice to fit in well with the atmosphere. Goldlink gives the last verse, and he gives a couple of good lines (like “This is as good as God, and God is too good at this”), but sometimes it feels like his lyrics are a bit heavy for the material. He talks about how he has mental conflicts about women because he is not sure what kind of woman he wants to spend the rest of your life with, and I’m just thinking “Dude, this is basically a song about a summer fling, calm down”. Still, this track stands as one of the bests off the album.
#5. Walking (with Joji, Jackson Wang, Swae Lee, & Major Lazer)
When I first looked at the tracklist, I was a little excited to hear this song, considering it has both Swae Lee and Major Lazer on it. However, these two turned out to be the most disappointing parts of the song. Swae Lee is known for his earworm hooks that immediately get stuck in your ear (similar to Post Malone), but he gives what might be one of his weakest hooks on this track. It’s barely catchy at all, making his appearance on here pointless. I also did not like Major Lazer’s contributions. Being a super-producer trio, I expected the instrumentals of this song to have some intriguing electronic elements, or at least a couple of neat beat drops. Instead, we get a Caribbean-style beat that is so generic it even has the overplayed Reggaeton drum pattern in here (we’ve all heard it at this point). Jackson Wang does better than Swae and Major Lazer, but he sounds surprisingly out of place on this song, which is a little odd considering he did so well on the previous track. The only one who does a more-than-passable job is Joji, with his singing sounding just as improved as it did on “Need Is Your Love”, but this isn’t enough to save this track.
#6. Breathe (with Joji & Don Krez)
This is one of those songs that I cannot concentrate on while listening to it. I think we all have those kinds of tracks, but it is one of those that no matter how hard I try, even if I have the lyrics in front of me, I can’t focus on it. This, inherently, isn’t a good thing. It might be due to the beat, which is almost too ambient to insinuate any form of groove, or it might be Joji, whose mumbling voice is covered in so much reverb that it’s hard to pay attention to him. Either way, the song isn’t very intriguing, and some of Joji’s lyrics on it (“Somebody I can push away and reel back in/Like the bait that I am, I am”; “If you hear me count to four/Sedate me ’til I’m normal”) sound pretty odd and abstract to the point of nonsense (in a track that isn’t supposed to be abstract), making this song fairly weak.
#7. Shouldn’t Couldn’t Wouldn’t (with NIKI & Rich Brian)
I’m pretty certain that this is the first time NIKI and Rich Brian have collaborated on a track where it is just the two of them performing on the song, which is strange that it has taken this long to happen considering they are two of the most prominent names of 88rising. Despite this, this song is a bit underwhelming. This is one of those songs where its lack of appeal to me cannot be defined by some easily recognizable problems. I mean, the song has some things going for it. The instrumental is pretty great, and those vocal modulations in the chorus sound beautiful. Also, NIKI and Rich Brian have some great, unfounded chemistry with one another. There are some lyrics here that definitely get a negative reaction out of me–kind of a “why would you say that” moment–some examples being “You go and shut me out, figures, you Gemini” and “My favorite parts of f*ckin’ is either when I’m done or when you’re walkin’ out my house.” There just isn’t much about this track that makes it stand out and makes me want to come back to it, very similar to “Need Is Your Love”.
#8. Just Used Music Again (with RHYME SO)
This is easily one of the strangest tracks on this album. It kind of sounds like some new-age, lo-fi type dance track. It’s very hard to place into one category. That being said, it’s not very good. It’s not super awful, but the repetition of the title phrase “I just used music again” gets old quickly, especially considering the phrase “I just used music again” makes no sense. The verse featured later on the song is just as senseless, and the beat (especially during the breakdown) has so many repetitive elements that it is just as annoying as the lyrics. The weirdest part of this track is that it was released as the second single to this album. An easily skip-able track.
#9. Indigo (with NIKI)
Possibly one of NIKI’s best solo songs. The beat on here is fantastic, combining trap elements with some electronic dance synths that make this perfect for the dance floor. The beat, though, is only a platform for NIKI to shine on. She proves herself to be a great singer through her delivery and lyrics, which are choc-full of personality. This is truly one of those songs that ONLY the original singer could perform because they do it so well, and NIKI’s vocals convey this by being full of sassy attitude. The lyrics contain some of the best material she has written, a lot of the lines containing some sense of clever wit, including “Mark your calendar, tonight’s gonna be your life’s highlight”, “It’d be psycho to psychoanalyze”, “Have my body all superimposed/Right on top of yours, oh”, “I listen to none, but I’m all ears for you”, and many many more. NIKI is probably one of my least favorite 88rising artists due mostly to the fact that I don’t fall into the category of people she appeals to, but this song totally makes me understand that appeal.
10. Hopscotch (with AUGUST 08, Joji, Barney Bones, & Rich Brian)
During my first look at the tracklist, this was the track I became the most excited for right when I saw it. During the 88rising concert I went to, AUGUST 08 performed a trap song with a hook that went “Hopscotch shawty jumpin’ out a cool whip”, and the audience was going crazy (including me). I tried to find this song later online, as this was one of the highlights of the concert for me, but no such song existed. So, when I saw a song entitled “Hopscotch” on the track list, my levels of hype jumped through the roof. Unfortunately, this song did not deliver on these expectations
Don’t get me wrong, this song has some good qualities. AUGUST 08 and Barney Bones do great! AUGUST provides an absolute banger of a chorus, and both of them provide autotuned verses that fit in great with the topics of the song. The trap drums of the beat are full of energy, but it’s also missing an integral melodic element. This isn’t a bad thing for all songs, but some type of fast-paced synth or cold piano would have made this beat immensely better. Where this song really becomes a disappointment is with Joji and Rich Brian. They both provide lyrics that show they are not taking this song entirely seriously, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it ruins the mood if you’re trying to use this as a hype song (which is the purpose of this track). Corny lines like “I’m cookin’ like I’m Bach”, “B*tch, I am Shawn Mendes”, “I’m chillin’ with your chick (Ayy)/And we quiet, watchin’ Le Mis”, “Joji in the booth, he lookin’ cute (He cute as f*ck)”, and “Shoutout to August even though we never hang when I’m in town” do a lot to ruin the mood of the song. And, while Joji and Brian both have a couple of good lines–namely “Now I’m in Paris, smokin’ baguettes” and “Gettin’ top by flight attendants, call that sh*t head in the clouds”–these don’t do enough to cover up their awful lines. Still, this will probably be a track I’m going to return to just for that awesome hook.
#11. Calculator (with AUGUST 08 & Barney Bones)
I could definitely see this song having been featured on AUGUST 08’s 2018 album “FATHER”, which is an album I love. The chorus on this track is the shining centerpiece of this song, containing the heartbreaking lines “Sh*t’s not addin’ up/I think my calculator’s broken/I’m not meant for love”. The song details AUGUST and Barney’s trials and tribulations involving love and women, with them each going into some great detail. I specifically like how Barney goes into some detail with specific names of former lovers and all of the ways he messed up the relationships with them. Put all this behind a pristine, melancholy beat and you have yourself a great song!
#12. La La Lost You (with NIKI)
This is the second and final solo-NIKI track on this album, and compared to “Indigo”, this song is lackluster. The only thing that makes this song really interesting is the whole gimmick of location-dropping, using the names of many cities and geographical locations that show NIKI and her lover’s isolation from one another. This is a cool part of the song, along with the great lyrics of the chorus, but the rest of the song is pretty boring. NIKI doesn’t have any of that personality seen on “Indigo”, the beat is one of the least impressive on this album, and without the location-gimmick, this song would feel incredibly basic. Not one of NIKI’s best endeavors.
#13. Hold Me Down (with Higher Brothers)
Higher Brothers FINALLY make another appearance on this album. I only wish it could be on a better song, though. On this track, Higher Brothers rap over a light-hearted, Caribbean style beat, and this really does not suit their style well. They have been able to perform well on this kins of tracks before, like “Tequila Sunrise” from earlier in this album or “Need Me Now” on their “Five Stars” album, but they do not mesh well with the style here. DZ gives a serviceable performance for the chorus, but beyond that, Higher Brothers do nothing to make this an interesting track.
#14. I Love You 3000 II (with Stephanie Poetri & Jackson Wang)
This track is a sequel to the recent track “I Love You 3000”, which is a solo track by Stephanie Poetri. The original is about Stephanie talking to her soon-to-be fiance, pondering about how great their future will be together, all within a beautifully framed acoustic melody and a surprisingly well-fitting extended allusion to “Avengers Endgame”. The song contains enough camp to make it cute without sounding too cheesy. Right now, it’s on my list of contenders to be featured in my future “10 Best Singles of 2019” list. But, you know what they say: the sequel is never as good as the original.
I should first mention that they changed some of the original lyrics of this song, which I found to be odd. They changed “I see you standing there/In your Hulk outerwear” to “See you standing there/And nothing compares”, which I don’t mind because the Hulk version of the line was probably the only part of the original I found to be TOO campy. However, they changed “Baby, take my hand/I want you to be my husband” to “Baby, take my hand/I want you to be my best friend“, which was a bad move on their part because this dampens the romantic elements of this song. We also have the problem of Jackson Wang to address. I really like how he takes on the role of the soon-to-be fiance in this song, as this is a really cool storytelling addition to the track, and this could have been done amazingly if the execution was planned well enough. However, there are many times I wonder why he is on this track because he basically just says what Stephanie said in the first verse but with different pronouns. Just look at their respective versions of the pre-chorus:
Stephanie: “And all my friends, they tell me they see
You’re planning to get on one knee
But I want it to be out of the blue
So make sure I have no clue
When you ask”
Jackson: “And all your friends, they tell you they see
I’m planning to get on one knee
I’ll make sure it’s out of the blue
I promise you’ll have no clue
When I ask”
When I listen to this, I just think to myself “What’s the point of having a featured artist on this song if all he is going to do is regurgitate the same lyrics?” Still, this is one of the better songs off this project, even if it isn’t as good as the original.
#15. 2 The Face (with Rich Brian & Higher Brothers)
The beat is pretty good. Rich Brain does good enough, I guess. DZ needs a better translator. Pretty meh song, overall.
#16. Gold Coast (with Rich Brian)
Much like “2 The Face”, there’s not much to say about this track. It honestly sounds like a bad deleted cut from Rich Brian’s recent album “The Sailor”. Mostly, it’s not a very strong album closer.
There are a couple of ways I could describe this album. I’m 90% sure this album was executive produced by Joji (though I cannot find any official evidence of this on the internet), but I would say that this album sounds like if Joji had executive produced the first “Head In The Clouds” album. I could also compare it like this: The original “Head In The Clouds” gave off a lot of summer vibes, while this one seems to hit a lot more autumnal vibes. No matter what I say, though, the truth stands that this album is inferior to the original.
Looking at the individual members, I think there are only a couple people who did better than they did on the original. AUGUST 08 was one of the shining pieces of every song he was a part of, providing some killer choruses and verses to the album. Rich Brian also improved, trying out many different styles in this album (like his high-pitched vocals on “These Nights”). I said that on the original “Head In The Clouds” he was one of the weakest contributors to the album, but he definitely improved since then. I am still on the fence with Joji, as his vocal performances are heavily improved upon with songs like “Need Is Your Love” and “Tequila Sunrise”, but he under-performs on songs like “Breathe” and “Hopscotch”. The rest of the 88rising members, however, did worse than the original project. NIKI had some stellar performances on “Strange Land” and “Indigo”, but her other songs were nothing more than mediocre, which pales in comparison to her flawless record on the original “Head In The Clouds”. I have not heard any of Jackson Wang’s solo material, but I feel like he was misused here. His other material might be at the same level of quality as how he performed on here, for all I know, but I would not be surprised if he performed better on his solo songs. Higher Brothers were also misused, as they would have been great on some of the more trap-style tracks on here. Instead, they were put on happier, Caribbean-style tracks like “Hold Me Down”, which does not go well with their style. The non-88rising guests also had some wishy-washy performances, with some being spectacular (Phum Viphurit, Goldlink), and others not meeting expectations (Swae Lee, Major Lazer). As a whole, though, this project has many less memorable songs than its counterpart. After listening to the first “Head In The Clouds”, I remember thinking that I wanted to return to almost every track on there. For this project, I see myself returning to about half of the tracks on here, maybe less. Many of the songs on this project just fade into the background, and almost all have qualities that don’t incentivize me to give them a second listen.
If I have to give my favorite track, I’d probably say it is “Strange Land”. Despite my original, lukewarm feelings toward the track, it grew on me quickly within a few listens with its immaculate production and creative, sympathetic lyrics. My least favorite track has to be “Just Used Music Again”, as it is one of the most off-kilter tracks on the album (not in a good way) and its repetitive nature doesn’t warrant it more than one listen.
Overall, I would give “Head In The Cloud II” a 6.5 out of 10. Do you agree?
Thank you for reading my “Head In The Clouds” review. If you liked this review, make sure to follow my website, Twitter, and Instagram, like this post, and be sure to check in to read my future reviews. Also, if you have a song or album you would like to see reviewed, tell me in the comments. Until then, keep listening to good music! I know I will.