Future's Freewheeling EP 'Save Me' - Rolling Stone
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Future’s Freewheeling EP ‘Save Me’

The king of the vocoder blues rappers delivers a surprisingly experimental release.

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Henri Alexander Levy*

Future’s desolate sing-croon is partially responsible for swaths of chart-topping SoundCloud rap, a generation of hitmakers prioritizing depression over bluster, moods over bars and self-exploration over braggadocio. However, a whopping 19(!) Future releases since his 2012 breakthrough, Pluto, it’s not exactly certain how and if the elder statesmen of contemporary Xanax blues fits into that landscape of face tattoos, punk-length trap songs and Instagram posturing.

The world is changing but, thus far, it hasn’t exactly mattered that a 35-year-old superstar is still being #honest instead of chasing clout. His January full-length, The Wizrd, was 20 tracks of classic, no-surprises, no-nonsense, no-fucks Future full of the reliable sad-raps and skull-caving trap beats he’s been peddling for more than a half-decade. And, naturally, it still hit Number One, was embraced by critics and was as satisfying as a new AC/DC record. However, this seven-song companion piece, coming less than five months on its heels, is something else: a fascinating “what if” scenario, a more experimental Future working within modern rap techniques and pushing their boundaries to the blurry edges.

Whether by accident or design, much of Save Me — his first solo EP ever — works beautifully alongside modern SoundCloud rap. The title “Save Me” was once used by XXXTentacion on a song that snuck onto the Hot 100; the genre-crossing album cover looks like it came from art-punk label Sacred Bones; the songs are often short and warble like alt-rock ballads. The whole thing has a run-time of about 20 minutes. It’s a cry for help, with his voice spilling from the middle of confusion, noise and alien voices

There is a real adventurous spirit these lithe, freewheeling bummer-bot jams. His voice, famously augmented by Auto-Tune, is occasionally completely engulfed and transformed like the work of avant-tronic artists like Arca, Sophie or Amnesia Scanner. Opener “Xanax Damage” distends his robo-rasp into ambient slurry and screwed weirdness, all capturing some of his mental state: “Baby, when the sun is out, it’s like I’m not myself.” A love song to Xanax, a woman or both, it mixes simple melodies with wild, shape-shifting production.

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Stream-of-consciousness closer “Love Thy Enemies” is the missing link between XXX’s ? and Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, a harrowing alt-rock ballad with a downward spiral of vocoder. It’s raw in both lyrics (“You wasn’t considerate to how I was feelin’/How I’m gonna explain this to my children?”) and performance (an mid-verse cough stays in). “St. Lucia” chirps like PC Music, a voice squirting like a computer malfunction, while Future plays perpetual villain: “Found out I cheated on her,” he gurgles, “she’ll still feed me grapes.”

“Shotgun,” produced by the late Seth Firkins and Detail (Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love”) is yearning mutant R&B, Future voice reaching like a Codeine-soaked Teddy Pendegrass. And “Please Tell Me” and “Government Official” are Future Classic, complete with woodwind melodies (the former) and intercontinental boasts (the latter), to keep this thing from going completely past Pluto. It’s not as instantly gratifying as singles like “Mask Off” or “Crushed Up,” but this tiny taster — part Juice WRLD, part Flying Lotus, all Future — provides an interesting way forward.

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