Pulling himself up by the boots


Boots (actual name Jordan Asher) erupted into public awareness late in 2013 with the release of Beyoncé’s acclaimed surprise release self-titled album. In addition to providing four original tracks for Beyoncé to rework on her album, he also logged production credits on more than 80 percent of the songs.

Since then, Boots has steadily built on his impressive body of work, with both original songs and collaborations on other artists’ albums (notably, FKA Twigs and Run the Jewels). Aquaria marks the first major label release for Boots, and, despite what would appear to be insurmountable expectations, he manages to craft a complex, morbid, and at times stunning début record.

All the album’s themes can be found in Boots’ microcosmic performance of the lead single “I Run Roulette” earlier this year on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” On tracks such as “Roulette,” it becomes clear Boots is, first and foremost, striving to be an iconoclast. Unlike some of his other work, “Roulette” is a mostly accessible — even danceable — song that, especially in a post-Weeknd musical climate, wouldn’t seem out of place on the top-40 charts.

Like many of today’s prominent pop acts (Adele and the Weeknd aside), Boots’ singing voice is average at best, and he manages to use this to his advantage. He subverts the first-time listeners’ expectations of what he might produce and takes them down a darker, more complicated path in which the comfortable formulas of conventional pop music are absent, unable to guide them.

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Listening to the album feels like taking a trip through the looking glass; similarities to Lewis Carroll’s classic stories should not be ignored. On Aquaria, Asher appears both victimized by and instrumental in the orchestration of this uniquely chaotic world. There is an ethereal, vulnerable quality to the music that often switches character, quickly and dramatically, becoming jagged and vicious.

While the sonics are beautifully textured — and Boots’ project does come together as a cohesive project — one flaw that becomes apparent as the album plays is a distinct absence of any songs quite reaching the sheer quality of those he gave to Beyoncé for her album.

This absence could perhaps have been filled by some of Boots’ stronger releases since Beyoncé dropped. One such song, “Mercy,” is a lilting pseudo-lullaby whose delicate, skittering production provides an ideal backdrop for such lyrics as “There’s daggers in your eyes/Get the devil on the line” that lure the listener into a sleep filled with nightmarish monsters rather than sweet dreams.

The style Boots creates can’t quite be classified as neo-R&B — a genre whose definition has been all but obliterated in the last five years — but it also doesn’t quite reach the level of pure, unadulterated rock or electronica. Instead, Boots again assumes the role of iconoclast and straddles lines among numerous apparently disparate genres, doing so to great success.

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