ALBUM REVIEW: Namasenda, Unlimited Ammo
PC Music is the Avengers of pop music at this point. A.G. Cook has always been the Iron Man/Doctor Strange of the bunch. By that, I mean he is a technological genius with otherworldly production powers, and plays the role of curator to the revolving door of new members. Whether crafting a brand new persona for Charli XCX (Captain America), or working one-for-one with fellow OG SOPHIE (The Hulk), A.G. is that guy. He is The Avengers, without him, the entire brand falls to dust. Before I get to my point, I’m having a lot of fun assigning these artists and producers to Marvel heroes so real quick: Dylan Brady (Vision), Laura Les (Scarlet Witch), Hannah Diamond (Spiderman). Ok, enough. Naomi Namasenda is Black Widow, 1000%. Since 2012, she has been on the scene and in the picture after winning a vocal scholarship from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. While she was only recently signed to PC Music, her experience with pop stretches back to the invention of the label. This is apparent in her affinity for catchy choruses and flow over these variably fast beats. To back up my Black Widow comparison even further, she is a European transplant (from Sweden) and her superpower is agility and...guns.
Her debut mixtape, Unlimited Ammo, is riddled with bullets. From the Dylan Brady co-produced opener “Black Ops 2” to the hardstyle “Banana Clip” to the UK jungle “Shots Fired”. Don’t be deceived by the bad features (for which there are a lot) and Namasenda’s subdued vocal presence, this is an extremely solid hyperpop tape. I can definitely admit that it is hit-or-miss in spots, but A.G.’s precision and Namasenda’s adaptability makes for a lot of great material. While this isn’t as exciting as Charli’s albums (or Captain America’s movies for that matter), Namasenda’s tape makes for a lean, engaging and sometimes schlocky 38 minutes. With enough listens and time, I could see this becoming a cult Swede favorite like Bladee’s EXETER. A.G.’s crystalline pop production is the strongest and most creative part of the whole endeavor, but nevertheless, I’ll keep coming back because nothing else sounds quite like it. “✩” has a great feature from Oklou that is reminiscent of a slower cut off of Charli’s Number 1 Angel tape. Similarly, “Steel” with Hannah Diamond is bouncy and has that classic Vroom Vroom sound. When Namasenda really catches the groove, this track is a real treat.
The title track has maybe the best production of any hyperpop track I’ve heard this year. While Bladee’s “Hotel Breakfast” is neck-and-neck, the hands-on nature of A.G.’s work on this one is second to none. He uses all the best possible vocal cuts from Namasenda, and vocally manipulates the rest on parts of the chorus. The result is this headbanging cut where Namasenda can never “reload all my feelings for you”. Like the best songs in the PC Music catalog, it is a well-crafted blend of campy parody and straightforward rave rhythm. While I am underwhelmed by the Joey LaBeija feature on “Finish Him”, the general theme and lead performance is cleverly done. “Block him, dump him, finish him” she flatly states over this playful, glowing beat. This sequence of tracks that I’ve spoken about are all in a row, and this is by far the best section of the tape. “No Regrets” is the last track in this win streak, a single that I loved when it dropped a few weeks ago. It feels like lightning in a bottle between artist, producer and guest, with each giving a really off-the-cuff version of themselves. Namasenda continues to threaten her ex, A.G. Cook brings out all these crazy MIDI instrumentation and flooring bass, and local NYC favorite DJ Goth Jafar even throws in some cheeky spoken word, ending with “Move back bugs, watch your step”.
The end of the tape veers a little too far into the Charli reference pool to really pull it all home for me personally. While tracks like “On My Mind” and even the very fun “Clouds” are listenable from a production standpoint, the unique vocal presence on the other tracks I mentioned is MIA. “Shots Fired” brings it back and puts everything on track. I love all the chipmunked vocals as well as the modern drum ‘n’ bass and silenced pistol samples. A.G. works in these building synth pads on the pre-chorus that also give the track a distinct and clean aesthetic. In my opinion, this tape really does run like Number 1 Angel by Charli. It’s experimental side wins me over in most cases, but this also allows for some subpar guests and bad vocal takes. On that record, the production was the saving grace for me. I feel the exact same way about Unlimited Ammo, and I expect great things for her Pop 2, whenever that is released. For now, this will be a constant source of ammunition for my rave DJ sets, where I can play all the killer and no filler.