Boots: Aquaria

December 15, 2015

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Columbia Records

While music fans may only be just getting to know Jordan Asher (better known by his pseudonym, Boots) by name, they’ve been hearing his music for a while. Just two years into his career as a producer, he’s worked with big names such as FKA twigs and Beyonce, and is beginning to emerge as an artist himself.

Asher’s story is really one of a climb up the proverbial ladder. A sort of renaissance musician, he learned to drum, sing, rap, and play guitar in his early days as a frontman of multiple smaller indie bands such as Blonds. In 2013, he took on his stage name and signed on to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation entertainment company as a producer. His most well-known work came on Beyonce’s self-titled fifth album in 2013. Estimates on how much of the album was Boot’s creation range from 80 to 90 percent. He penned four of the songs (“Haunted/Ghost,” “Jealous,” “Heaven” and “Blue”) while providing many of the backup vocals and nearly all of the instrumental parts.

His identity as a largely unknown figure behind the scenes allowed Boots to make music creatively without any real expectations from the public.
“I’m free to make whatever sound comes to my head,” he said in a 2014 interview with Vogue. “I’m free to release it however I want, to whoever wants to hear it. And that was really, really invigorating. Most people don’t get the choice to do things on their own terms, especially in the Internet age. I didn’t court this ‘mystery’ idea, but I’ll go with it… because it allows me really interesting opportunities to release music and art in an unconventional way.”

Now, Boots, whose Roc Nation page bio reads only, “Boots was born in the mouth of an 808,” is trying to emerge from the shadows. After a year of dropping singles every few months, he released his first full album, “Aquaria,” on November 13.

Most of the songs of “Aquaria” carry a sort of dystopian, experimental R&B sound. He layers a minimalist acoustic drumbeat over a simple baseline and minor synth, letting his vocals (both singing and rapping) take center stage. This works better in some cases than it does with others. When he focuses on rapping, and sticks to rapping like in “Brooklyn Gamma,” the track is left monotone, without any melodic variation, and it never really gets off the ground. The other issue with such a consistent style is that while there are minor changes in the beat, many of the songs lack any sort of melodic footprint, and tracks run together.

That being said, there are plenty of good points to the album too. While his singing is nowhere near Beyonce’s level, his voice is quite good, and the songs in which he exhibits it, like “I Run Roulette” are, for the most part, great. The most critically acclaimed song on the album, “C.U.R.E.” is a fast-paced, loud warning of the evils of a capitalistic society (along with a nightmare-inducing music video to boot), and is probably the best style Boots can make for himself. He will never be Beyonce, and the tracks on “Aquaria” show that he can both write music for her and for mere mortals.

“Aquaria” is nowhere near a perfect album, but it showcases Boots’ obviously expansive musical and production talent and the high ceiling that he has. If he keeps climbing up the musical ladder, pretty soon the who music world will know Boots by not only his music, but also his name.

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