Review Summary: Sicko Mode or Battery Saving Mode? Either way, it's solid.
Despite dating into one of the most plastic and soulless families in mainstream American culture, Travis Scott is a generally authentic artist. His reverbed psychedelic tinged take on modern trap music and hip hop is the equivalent of his general demeanor -- albeit more expressive. While most artists nowadays saturate their social medias and the 24 hour news cycle, Travis Scott is more low-key, quiet-- mysterious even. Since his debut record, Rodeo, was released in 2015 to generally positive reviews, he has made a niche for himself as a more experimental and adventurous artist than his peers. 2018's "Astroworld", his most critically and commercially successful record, propelled him relative stardom, and now 2 years later he is back - sort of - with a compilation record of artists signed to his Cactus Jack record label.
While anyone expecting "Astroworld 2.0" will probably be disappointed, this collection of 6 new tracks is definitely a fair and logical progression of the sound heard previously. There is a lot of good to these tracks, and there is also quite a bit of bad points as well. The opening track "Highest in the Room" was released as a single in the fall, and immediately racked up an incredible 130 million views in two months on YouTube. This version is a remix, featuring a Spanish-language version and entirely useless verse from Lil Baby. The guitar-sample based beat and synthed out reverb is part of the sound that is to be expected from Travis Scott at this point, and this track is among the high points.
"Gang Gang" sees Travis Scott linking up with NY-based rapper Sheck Wes, famous for the "other hit song of 2018/2019". The Sicko Mode-Mo Bamba remix doesn't happen, but a slow, trodding kick drum heavy beat carries this song through, and while it isn't exceptional or really even too memorable, there is nothing offensively bad about it either. It reminisces of earlier Travis Scott, more specifically "Brian McKnight" era.
Following this is the Migos x Travis Scott link up no one specifically asked for, but it turns out much better than you'd expect just from glancing at the tracklist. The instrumental here, to myself at least, is very reminiscent of UGK style Houston-rap, specifically the airy church organ synth that percolates throughout. Quavo and Offset, who are comparatively very different to Travis Scott himself, actually have surprisingly decent bars, albeit the same thing, same style as always. This leads into the next track, "Out West", featuring Young Thug. For whatever reason, Young Thug sounds like he is doing his best yet worst Lil Wayne impersonation throughout the entire track, to the point it's almost distracting. This may be the weakest track on the record, mostly because the lyrics are needlessly gross and Young Thug is trying to do an off-brand 2010 impersonation of Lil Wayne that is entirely as bizzare as it is stupid.
Luckily the next track, "What to Do" is a redeeming psychedelia tinged "wavy" track that definitely picks the momentum back up. One of my complaints with Travis Scott has always been his tendency to not cut the fat and the weaker tracks to make a leaner and tighter record, and "Out West" was a track that could have been left in the editing process. "What to Do" is fantastic, a taut and trademark Travis Scott track, complete with reverb, echo, and a surprisingly good guitar solo (very very reminiscent of Take What You Want from Me on the latest [L]Post Malone[L] record.
At only 7 tracks this record is concise compared to the 17 track behemoth "Astroworld" was , and closing out the record is the straight-up banger "GATTI". Beat wise the snare/kick is strangely similar to either early 2000's Jay-Z or the very far removed "What's Your Fantasy" by Ludacris and Shawnna; but other than the rhythm there is no similarity but the "trippy" fast paced drumming and the menacing, dark synth and bass line create a really fantastic backdrop to some okay verses. The instrumental here is pretty different to modern Travis Scott style, especially in how "club banger" oriented it seems to be, and the dumbed-down lyrical approach hurts it as well. As a closing track it serves fantastically, and as a eff-the-club-up type of track it exceeds a lot of criteria for what constitutes that.
While "Jackboys" is more a group effort than a straight-forward Travis Scott record, the general progression of the sound and style is continuing on "Astroworld" and taking the Cactus Jack stable into 2020. Despite being involved in the mess that is the Kardashian/Jenner witch coven, Travis Scott is a low-key, psychedelic type guy, and the chilled-out vibe here, mixed with some higher energy moments is rewarding, and even if the replay value isn't exceedingly high, it is worth a listen or two.