Post Malone's "August 26" has its highlights, but he's still working out the kinks.
As we learned last year with "White Iverson," then "Too Young," Post Malone is really good at writing and delivering hooks. He's got a way of sounding so effortless yet impassioned-- the way his voice suddenly rises and then abruptly cuts words short, takes melodies to unexpected places-- it's nothing short of refreshing in a trap scene now so awash with half-assed singing performances. Indeed, the majority of the tracks on his debut tape August 26 carry on Post's track record of stick-to-your-ribs choruses. In the days since first hearing it, I've walked around absentmindedly mumbling at least four separate hooks from the project, barely realizing it from how breezy all of the melodies are.
Despite that though, the bulk of August 26 leaves me either wanting a lot more from Post, or wishing he'd left a few ideas on the cutting room floor. On one hand, he does too little in the lyrics department, circling tired clichés of road life, groupie love, and substances upon substances. On the other, he tries to go big with a Fleetwood Mac interpolation and the floorboard-stomping closer "Oh God," the first of which gets bogged down by some iffy vocal harmonies, and the latter of which sounds like some unholy marriage of Hozier and Speedin' Bullet-era Kid Cudi. In interviews, Post has spoken of his love for country music and heavy metal, noting that he's played guitar for longer than he's been rapping, but the prospect of his career as an acoustic guitar-wielding trap balladeer becomes a lot less appealing once you've actually heard him turn off the auto-tune and strum some bar chords. The best midpoint between Post's swaggy impulses and his outlaw ones actually aren't on August 26. "Go Flex," a single that just dropped last month, is catchy as fuck and never leans too hard into either side of Post's personality, instead plotting a really agreeable course between light trap drums and airy guitar strums. It's clear that he doesn't necessarily have the chops to drop all of the production bells and whistles and do a fully unplugged album yet, but in his more balanced genre-mashing tracks, Post shows that his melodic gifts can service more than your standard, boilerplate trap track.
Production team FKi have a lot to do with Post's success-- they've produced nearly everything he's put out, and their slightly more veteran experience allows them to make Post and his sonic backdrops sound great. None of the beats on August 26 are bust-your-shit-open crazy, but they're elegantly minimal and propulsive, providing a head-nodding pulse without ever distracting from Post's presence on the mic. Who knows how much FKi actually have to do with songwriting and vocal doctoring, but whether they're merely giving the auto-tune some depth or ghostwriting entire tracks, it's easy to imagine Post struggling without their assistance.
Nobody's coming to Post Malone for lyrical genius, all we expect are some dope basketball references and memorable, cool-sounding catchphrases ("I want that shit, I got that shit, pop that shit/Got rich quick, suck my..." from "Too Young" is probably my Platonic ideal Post Malone bar), but he even struggles with this over the course of ten tracks. Opener "Never Understand" has him claiming that he's just "Tryna be myself, something they'll never understand," but it's really not that deep. Post does delve into some pretty harrowing substance abuse stuff towards the tape's end ("Ain't living too long if I'm living like this/Early morning waking up with the sweats"), but beyond that it's just standard tales of what pretty much everyone would do if they got rich and famous at the age of 19. Post's more emo moments work best for him-- he's got a voice that just sounds sad, even on otherwise ebullient tracks like "White Iverson"-- and he sounds a little hollow when bossing up on cuts like "Git Wit U" and "God Damn." He clearly has the money to "sauce on hoes 'cause that ass so dumb," but his abilities lend themselves more to singing about the messy aftermath of nights like that.
Guest-wise, 2 Chainz and Lil Yachty are best utilized here, both delivering verses that show what more capable, hilarious rappers can do on FKi beats. They actually have the two best lines on the whole project-- Chainz's "You a clown like your daddy met your mom at a circus" and Yachty's "I feel like Monta Ellis, I got more hoes than Elvis"-- both of which reveal by contrast that humor isn't Post's strong suit. Jeremih somehow contributes to a song that blatantly interpolates his "Fuck You All The Time," and Jaden Smith delivers the weirdest "Skrr"s of all time in his appearance. The guest-heavy approach works well for Post, taking some of the lyrical pressure off of him and allowing him to focus on hooks.
Personally, I think the strongest moment on August 26 is "40 Funk," a gleefully dumb song that has taken over way too much of the brain space I save for remembering melodies. Co-produced by iLoveMakonnen, it's a low-stakes romp through riches, drugs, and fame that contains little-to-no lyrical depth but is just the sort of thing that makes Post a likable star. In this moment and others on the tape, he sounds like he's making the music Justin Bieber would love to make if he didn't have a massive pop star reputation to uphold. You know Biebs parties hard and relishes one-night stands, but his legions of Beliebers would be heartbroken hearing him sing stuff like "I can't love no hoe." In another world, he'd be cornrowing his hair instead of dreading it, collaborating with more trap producers, and making music that's basically tailor-made for Kylie Jenner's Snapchat. Post's doing almost the same, but without the considerable vocal gifts. He's still working out the kinks on August 26-- the misguidedly full-blown forays into folk, rock, and country, the shallow lyrics-- but with famous friends and a knack for hooks, he could very well improve things by the time his debut album comes out later this year.