Sunglasses Kid – ‘Sophomore’ full album review – The Kid and his classmates have brought what 2020 needed.
Graduation night is here! Sunglasses Kid is BACK with his new album ‘Sophomore’ and Principle Dickland is in the firing line.
Steal My Love (Miranda Carey and Sunglasses Kid)
Sophomore opens with everything you know and expect from SK. Big beats, guitar licks and a killer top line from Miranda Carey who returns as one of many SK vocal muses in his 2020 album. Miranda’s vocal stylings are reminiscent of Janet Jackson in this opening track but as fresh and on point as you could want. Immediately SK is making a statement on this long awaited follow up to 2017’s ‘Graduation’. His stylistic stamp is there and it can’t be denied that this is a Sunglasses Kid track.. But there are some changes.. The development and progress in the last 3 years is clear and the mixing skills of Israel Medina and mastering from Tom Frampton (who’s worked with David Guetta and Calvin Harris, amongst others) are the polish on an already shining track. ‘Steal My Love’ is a musical slap in the chops. SK is back.. but you knew that..
Chill (Feat Jay Diggs and Sunglasses Kid – Feat: Johnny Silva)
‘Chill’ is one of a few tracks that Sunglasses Kid has released during 2020 in the run up to the album release. Jay Diggs is the talented vocalist who provided the vocal for chill, a track that was recorded a number of months prior to Jay’s sound going viral in the summer of 2020 with his cover of ‘Wap’, gaining huge attention from the R&B world. The track is the first of many on the album that presents SK’s love and affection for the late 80s / early 90s R&B scene. That familiar Bobby Brown-eqsue percussion shines through as Jay waxes lyrical about his love struggles which, ironically, makes the listener want to do anything but ‘Chill’.
Sophomores (Feat Holoflash)
‘Sophomores’ represents the only instrumental track on the second album. Reminiscent of ‘Venice Beach’ from ‘Graduation’, it acts as and interval between the vocal tracks that go on to round up the rest of the album. ’Sophomores’ reminds us all of the pure SK sound that does not require a top line vocal with Holoflash helping drive it home.
Fixing Me With Love (Primo The Alien and Sunglasses Kid)
‘Fixing Me With Love’ is next and brings us SK’s collaboration with Austin-based artist Primo The Alien. Primo’s last few years have seen an explosion of her work both recording-wise and live. Her wide-ranging vocal is shown to it’s full extent in ‘Fixing Me With Love’ and has impressed many since its single release in the latter part of 2020. Few vocalists could stand up next to Primo’s range and she carries’ Sophomore’ and its listener through SK’s developed and bold new sound to the second half of the album.
Listen To Your Heart (Feat: SJ Bravo and Sunglasses Kid – Feat: Phaserland)
SJ Bravo is back after lending his vocals to ‘Graduation’’s huge hit ‘Runaway’. The heartbreak vibes in ‘Sophomore’ continue with SJ’s frustrated lover lyrics. SJ’s work with Sunglasses Kid and others have always reminded the listener of his professionalism and ability to elevate a track. SJ has also joined SK on a couple of live shows in London and Amsterdam in the last 18 months, where both artists were able to seamlessly translate their tracks to the live set up. ‘Listen To Your Heart’ has those 80s tropes we expect from both artists but again, has strong 90s R&B percussion and vocal stylings that elevate the track into the direction ’Sophomore’ is taking us on.
Stranger Love (Ollie Wride and Sunglasses Kid)
There is little more that can be said about the Summer 2020 hit that was ’Stranger Love’, SK’s collaboration with vocalist and showman Ollie Wride. Their track is up there as one of New Retro Wave’s highest ever played videos and represents months of high quality collaboration between two great musical minds. Ollie’s tale of heartbreak and devotion is accompanied by SKs big beautiful ballad production and the 2 men bring together their visions to create what has become one of the best and most successful releases of 2020. Michael Oakley and Israel Medina also brings their touch to the mix that elevates the track even higher. It’s a beautiful song that would fit a heartbreak, a fledgling love or a memory.. One that will outlive both these men long after they are gone.
April Fool (Iversen and Sunglasses Kid)
UK act Iversen have added their distinct style to this long awaited collaboration. ‘April Fool’ brings shades of the Iversen’s 2018 release ‘La Faviere’ with the SK twist. It’s an up-beat tale of relationships that continues the theme that has threaded through ’Sophomore’. The track is 4 and a half minutes long but disappears in a haze of sunshine and those 90s percussion tropes that dominate. When the world gets back to some form of normality this track will destroy the dance floor.
Neverending Dream (Megan McDuffee and Sunglasses Kid Feat: Tim Cappello and All The Damn Vampires)
Sweet Jesus… ’Neverending Dream’ is here and it is quite the track. Megan’s soft and subtle vocals are in perfect contrast to Cappello’s down and dirty sax licks that elevate the track to a whole new level.. THEN you have the the guitar skills of All The Damn Vampires. Bring it together and what you get is SK conducting a dreamy ode to love with the hand picked orchestra. Cappello’s solo in the last third of the track blows the mind more than just a little. This master of the sax continues to show the world that his inventive take on the creative ask will bring a whole new meaning a track. His involvement reminds us all that SK’s interpretation of music from an era we all adore is authentic, genuine and comes from a place of love. Highlight track of the album.
Cold Hearted (SJ Bravo and Sunglasses Kid)
SJ Bravo returns as 1 of 2 artists collaborating on more than one track on ’Sophomore’. After 4 strong vocal tracks you would expect ‘Cold Hearted’ to struggle in 5th but it keeps the party going with its upbeat tempo and is such a contrast to ’Neverending Dream’, yet does not feel out of place in the running order. SJ and SK’s track allows the listener to refresh after the smooth and dreamy song that preceded it.. Some smart track placement, here.
Summer Breeze (Miranda Carey and Sunglasses Kid)
‘Sophomore’ comes full circle and concludes with another welcomed vocal from Miranda Carey. This time around we are treated to a slower and more melodic track that brings out SK’s R&B side with Miranda’s distinct vocal. ’Summer Breeze’ is the slow dance at the end of the night, it’s the make or break moment with your sweetheart.. It’s the memory making moment that all those 80s and 90s kids will remember from their teenage years. It cements ’Sophomore’ in that progressive 90s sound whilst satisfying the listener to a strong collusion after what has been a whirlwind of collaborations that highlight the best of talents old and new from inside the retro scene.
There is a reason that ‘Graduation’ has had the longevity and high regard as a release that is has had the last 3 years. It is the professionalism and attention to detail that Sunglasses Kid brings to his music, and ‘Sophomore’ is no different… except in one way… ‘Sophomore’ represents a number of things both to the artist and the listener. It’s clear that SK has kept that sound that makes his music what it is.. authentic, produced by a true fan of the 80s and 90s production styles… but he has also progressed. ‘Sophomore’ is a statement about making music that you love and developing your sound because that is what you want to do.
For the listener it is both familiar and reliable in that you know you will enjoy it but it is also ballsy as hell. It’s pushing the perceived limitations of SK’s sound, which I feel is exactly what he wanted to achieve. In reality there are no limitations to any artists reach and perceived limitations are for the foolish amongst us. We should follow artists where they want to go and Sunglasses Kid has taken his established position and moved it forward, kept it fresh and is reminding the listener that there are so many more strong and exciting influences out there. It is no surprise that with this attitude to song-writing and production that we find an album such as ’Sophomore’ being amongst just a hand full of releases in 2020 that have pushed the envelope.
’Sophomore’ transcends the synthwave scene and puts SK out there as a strong, no-fear producer that can see beyond the limitation of any scene but also embrace the strong talent in those around him.
What a time to be discovering music like this. Let’s be thankful.
’Sophomore’ is on general release via Aztec Records on 28th November 2020. You can grab the pre-order NOW via Sunglasses Kid Bandcamp page as well as get your hands on the Cassette, Vinyl and CD release of the album.
Now you’ll need to excuse me. I have to return some videotapes.