070 Shake Is Part of a Beautiful Orchestra on ‘Modus Vivendi’: Review

At present, 070 Shake is another member of the orchestra. But when the time comes, she’ll be ready to take up the mantle as maestro.
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MODUS VIVENDI album review, 2020

Artistically, 070 Shake is a raw nerve personified. Her music is all feeling: a string of unfiltered emotions conveyed through strained vocal textures and soul-baring lyrics. When this formula works, it does so exceedingly well. Her soaring chorus on “Ghost Town” is the highlight of Kanye West’s otherwise underwhelming 2018 album, ye. Yet, the inverse is equally true. When Shake misses the mark, her music feels remarkably inessential. It’s indistinguishable from the output of other popular emo-rap hybrids, like the late Juice WRLD or Trippie Redd.

On her debut album, Modus Vivendi, Shake and her collaborators, led by producer Mike Dean, find a way to create backdrops that insulate her from these flaws. The album’s production is glorious. It’s a masterclass in juxtaposing minimalist and maximalist textures, sourced transparently from Kanye’s playbook.

Whether it’s the cinematic soundscapes scoring “ROCKETSHIP,” the percussive synth-pop stuttering beneath “GUILTY CONSCIENCE,” or the fuzzy distortion vibrating across “COME AROUND,” each of the album’s 12 instrumentals feels designed to be a standalone piece.

For her part, Shake slots perfectly on top of these compositions, content to be another part of the orchestra. Her voice, malleable despite its obvious technical limitations, is not dissimilar to Post Malone’s in its wide-transferability. Across Modus Vivendi, Shake’s collaborators maximize this gift further by tuning her voice like an instrument, filtering it through a variety of digital processing techniques to extract as much mileage out of it as possible.

In particular, they get great utility out of the Messina, the kaleidoscopic filter popularized by Bon Iver, designed to affect vocals roughly comparable to the effect a prism has on light. The artful addition of this filter on songs like “ROCKETSHIP” and “DIVORCE” has the dual-effect of bolstering the dynamic quality of Shake’s voice and complementing the ambient textures of these songs more broadly.

Aesthetic triumphs aside, Modus Vivendi suffers on occasion for its lack of thematic consistency. For all the leaps she’s taken as an artist, Shake’s writing still tends to err on the side of being overly precious. Her poetic ambitions are admirable, but she often misses the mark, populating the album with sophomoric one-liners, like “if you were a liquid, youd be bitter like wine,” on “DON’T BREAK THE SILENCE” or, worse, “I was just microdosing you,” on the song “MICRODOSING.”

Nevertheless, it’s commendable how vulnerable Shake is willing to be in her music. On tracks like “FLIGHT31,” this bravery pays dividends, giving way to a surprisingly resonant interrogation of spirituality. Similarly, it’s easy to see how “DIVORCE,” a song about a relationship gone sour, might very well be cathartic for listeners who’ve recently undergone a breakup. These songs aren’t necessarily devoid of the trite poetry that plagues the rest of the album, but Shake manages to sidestep this problem by selling her emotions convincingly with a bracing delivery.

More important than the lyrics themselves, though, is Shake’s willingness to go there. She doesn’t shy away from reckoning with her emotions or probing meaningful themes, meaning that when her lyricism eventually catches up to her musicality in a few years, she’ll be in a great position to capitalize. At present, she’s just another member of the orchestra, but when the time comes, she’ll be ready to take up the mantle as maestro.

Standout Track: “MORROW”
Best Bar:And my brains bruised from all of the bad news
Favorite Moment: The bridge on “ROCKETSHIP”

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