Review Explosion: Injury Reserve, Lil Nas X, Yebba, Park Hye Jin, & I’ll Be Your Mirror

(Review Explosion is a recurring AnalogPlanet feature covering recent releases for which we either don't have sufficient time to fully explore, or that are not worthy of it. Curated by AnalogPlanet contributing editor Malachi Lui, Review Explosion focuses on the previous couple months' new releases and reissues.)

Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Self-released stream (LP variants sold out)

Produced by: Injury Reserve, et al
Engineered by: N/A
Mixed by: Zeroh
Mastered by: Zeroh

Music: 8
Sound: 7

Calling Injury Reserve’s new LP By the Time I Get to Phoenix unique is an understatement; it’s so unabashedly experimental that their label Loma Vista rejected it, and upon the group’s request ended their contract. The hip-hop trio (now duo)’s second formal studio album and first following rapper Stepa J. Groggs’ sudden death last year, By the Time I Get to Phoenix favors off-the-walls avant-post-rap insanity over their self-titled 2019 LP’s more conventional structures. On first listen, it’s inaccessible: a concept album about a dystopian hi-tech world burning before our eyes, By the Time I Get to Phoenix has few hooks, with noise layers difficult to penetrate. Upon further diving, however, Parker Corey’s production and Ritchie With A T’s lyrics reveal incredible detail and urgency. The words are distressingly matter-of-fact, and the bleak sonics are truly singular: the bubbling space-age synths and dark atmospheres on “Outside,” the glitched-out anxiety of “Superman That” (on which Ritchie sings “Ain’t no saving me/Ain’t no saving me or you”), the menacing bassline on “SSS San Francisco,” and the squelching, disembodied guitar on “Top Picks for You” are all constructed and paired in previously unheard ways. The yearning defeat of “Knees,” one of two songs with Groggs, segues into closer “Bye Storm,” which appropriately samples Brian Eno’s “Here Come The Warm Jets.” By the Time I Get to Phoenix is a fitting sendoff to Stepa J. Groggs, yet more importantly, opens a new chapter in what rap-based experimental music can be.

Various Artists - I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico

Verve Records stream (2LP and CD available)

Produced by: Hal Willner (executive producer)
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Various
Mastered by: Bob Ludwig

Music: 7
Sound: 8

Ahead of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground documentary, Verve/UMG released I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico, a song-by-song The Velvet Underground & Nico tribute. The late producer Hal Willner’s final project features the followed artists. Their contributions varied in quality: I’ll Be Your Mirror features Michael Stipe, Iggy Pop, Thurston Moore, St. Vincent, Bobby Gillespie, and others. Moore and Gillespie’s “Heroin,” Kurt Vile’s “Run Run Run,” King Princess’ “There She Goes Again,” and Fontaines D.C.’s “The Black Angel’s Death Song” adequately replicate the originals, but don’t go much further. Iggy Pop and Matt Sweeney’s “European Son” lacks the VU recording’s cacophony, St. Vincent and Thomas Bartlett’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is creative but meanders, and Matt Berninger (The National)’s “I’m Waiting For The Man” feels sluggish. I’ll Be Your Mirror still has valuable moments: the densely layered chamber pop of Sharon Van Etten’s “Femme Fatale,” the spacious avant-folk of Andrew Bird and Lucius’ “Venus In Furs,” Courtney Barnett’s vocal performance on “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” and Michael Stipe’s new perspective on “Sunday Morning.” This tribute LP greatly respects the Velvet Underground and Nico’s enduring musical legacies, though of course can’t and doesn’t try to replace the real deal.

Yebba - Dawn

RCA Records stream (no physicals yet)

Produced by: Mark Ronson, Yebba, others
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Tom Elmhirst and Riccardo Damian
Mastered by: Randy Merrill at Sterling Sound

Music: 6
Sound: 8

Halfway through Drake’s bloated Certified Lover Boy is “Yebba’s Heartbreak,” a 2-minute interlude from rising soul/pop singer Yebba (Abbey Smith). A week after CLB, RCA released Yebba’s debut LP, Dawn, produced by her and Mark Ronson. A meticulously crafted neo-soul album recorded at Electric Lady Studios, Dawn sounds vintage yet distinctively modern. Some of the songs musically blend together, and Yebba occasionally belts too much, though her descriptive and emotionally varied songwriting is gripping. Even if you don’t love this record, Yebba’s artistry stands out: years of perfectionism (including about 300 vocal takes for “October Sky”) results in a pristine-sounding record. Despite some lackluster moments (“Love Came Down”), Dawn proves that Yebba has nowhere to go but up.


Columbia Records stream (no physicals yet)

Produced by: Various (mostly Take A Daytrip)
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Various
Mastered by: Various

Music: 6
Sound: 7

Many artists hurriedly drop an album following a successful single; after “Old Town Road”’s record-breaking success, Lil Nas X smartly waited. To much fanfare and controversy, last month he finally dropped his debut full-length, MONTERO. Mainly produced by Take A Daytrip, MONTERO establishes Lil Nas X as more than a one-hit wonder, but not yet as an auteur. He has a keen sense of melody and a lot to say about his success and his sexuality. However, the production, despite the synth-horns on “INDUSTRY BABY” and a few country-inspired flourishes, consists of generic trap beats and/or oft-used slick yet aesthetically “lo-fi” guitars. Standout moments like the bombastic “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” “INDUSTRY BABY”’s braggadocio, the introspective, Kid Cudi-esque “SUN GOES DOWN;” and the spacious “LIFE AFTER SALEM” make MONTERO listenable, but it’s inconsistent and will soon sound dated.

박혜진 Park Hye Jin - Before I Die

Ninja Tune stream (LP variants, CD, and cassette available)

Produced by: 박혜진 Park Hye Jin
Engineered by: N/A
Mixed by: Tom Jessop and 박혜진 Park Hye Jin
Mastered by: N/A

Music: 5
Sound: 8

Last month, Los Angeles-based Korean producer Park Hye Jin followed two profile-boosting EPs with her debut LP, Before I Die, released on Ninja Tune. Park’s appropriately atmospheric instrumentals interestingly balance hip house with cloud rap, but her sing-rapped English and Korean lyrics are gratingly redundant. Some elements work; the trap beat set against hazy ambient piano on “Whatchu Doin Later” and the UK garage drums on “Where Are You Think” tease what could’ve been, but the songs sit in frustrating stasis. Nauseously looped lyrics like “Can I get your number?/Or not?/We can fuck” (“Can I Get Your Number”) and “In my life/In my life, I will never die” (“Never Die”) sink average but otherwise acceptable production. Following last year’s promising outsider house EP How Can I, Before I Die especially disappoints, yet Park Hye Jin evidently still has potential.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter: @MalachiLui and Instagram: @malachi__lui)

Anton D's picture

Many of the cuts on Montero would make excellent Crash Test Dummies songs.

The auto-tuning is just too over the top for me on Injury reserve left me not paying attention.

I like Yebba, the cover made me expect a Vammpire Weekend or Big Thief album. I think this album is worth repeat even has a few Andre 3000 and Playboi Carti moments!

Great reviews, Malachi.

The old Muppet guys should be along shortly, though.

Jazz listener's picture

Statler: “They aren't half bad.”
Waldorf: “Nope, they're ALL bad!"

MhtLion's picture

Park Hye Jin may be onto something. Possibly starting a brand new genre. Something casual, homemade-ish, light, and background music kind. Obviously, her music is very amateurish. But, there is something to it. The next generation may be filled with thousands of artists like her - homemade music.

Anton D's picture

I think you are likely correct.

MalachiLui's picture

her music definitely has something going for it aesthetically, hopefully there will be more substance to this sort of thing in the future, but you do have a good point

ivansbacon's picture

I thought that music reviews here are reviews of a physical analog record.?

I am a crusty old opinionated guy, auto-tune should be banned.


PeterPani's picture
MalachiLui's picture

we’ve been doing the digital explosions for over two years now. most reviews here are still of physical analog records, but at the end of the day, music matters most. formats are always specified for each release reviewed. and as for autotune, it’s an effect that can be used in good or bad ways, like any other effect. and if you’re working in the digital domain, there’s really no point to not using autotune, which isn’t really “cheating” (the pitch correction when not used as an aesthetic effect is often EXTREMELY slight)

dubonvinyle's picture

I've started buying vinyl records and would like to find online music catalogs or some sort of music list from Verve-Universal-Sony-etc to get info on the LP's I have bought and none of the company sites I visited seem to offer this?

mraudioguru's picture

Discogs has probably the most extensive info you could find on music.

xtcfan80's picture

Yes Discogs and on-line retailers like / and can help. Also, can be some good info on and some wacky opinions as well. Welcome to the club!

dubonvinyle's picture

Thank you all for the info

Anton D's picture

I think I have an inherent bias against "Tribute Albums," but this Velvet Underground set is above average.

I already think of Courtney Barnett as a Lou Reed disciple, so "I'll Be Your Mirror" sounds about like I'd want, but she seems to be overtly enunciating even more like Lou than usual, so my imagination was not captured.

Over-all, I like the more down tempo vibe of this tribute is a decent late night listen!

All in all, a 6-7 rating for this one, which is high for me for a tribute album.

Thanks again, Malachi.

Telekom's picture

Hi Malachi
Thanks for this round-up. I'm really entranced by the sonic qualities of Park Hye Jin's tracks, and even her deadpan vocals appeal to me, but as you state the lyrical content is a bit empty. It does grate a bit.