Future Hits His Songwriting Stride on Surprise Album 'EVOL': Review
Atlanta rapper Future’s supremely busy 2015 includes the release of three mixtapes and a studio album, and just a few weeks into the new year, he already seems destined to best it. In mid-January, he put out a serviceable new mixtape called Purple Reign, and now, just three weeks later, he has a surprise album, sold as part of a new deal with Apple Music. EVOL is a deep dive into a hazy world of pharmaceutical drugs and raunchy sex, and a refinement of the sounds and ideas of the mixtape that preceded it. Like Purple Reign, whose arch expression of affection was an offer for free drugs (“I’ma give the perkys to you, baby, no charge,” he sings on “No Charge”), EVOL is allergic to romance. Its title, Future noted on Twitter, is the word “love” spelled backwards. The spite of 2014 mixtape Monster, the woe of 2015’s Beast Mode, and the devilish glee of his No. 1 album DS2 have all chilled into a dull malaise here. “Welcome to the xanny family,” early album highlight “Xanny Family” intones. “I’m on savage time,” Future boasts on “Photo Copied.”
The remarkable speed at which Future is able to create seems rooted in his approach to lyrics. He sinks into a flow on each of the 11 songs here and hurls out a dizzying flurry of taunts and boasts that seem at once very clever and perhaps a little cast off. He sacrifices a measure of passion for speed, but it suits EVOL’s stories of anesthetized late nights that they’re delivered in a dazed, almost mechanical voice. It makes the sex seem even more jaded -- as on “Lil Haiti Baby,” when Future croons “You want an R&B chick, shorty? It ain’t nothing to get ‘em” -- and makes him seem cooler than the gaudy nightlife scenes he traverses. He can emote when he wants: "Lie to Me” thanks friends and family he no longer has time to visit for their support. But EVOL’s preferred tone is dark, sprightly club-VIP lawlessness.
With Future locked into a groove, what really makes EVOL stick out from his gang of recent releases is its production, which pulls largely from Atlanta beatmakers Metro Boomin, Southside, and DJ Spinz. EVOL toys with the gothic trap core of Future’s sound, stretching it out into disorienting new territories. “Lil Haiti Baby” is centered aroud a hellish fanfare of synthetic trumpets, letting them flourish for 30 seconds before the hollow thud of a drum kicks in. “Photo Copied” sends ghostly video game beeps pinging around the mix, and “Seven Rings” sounds like chopped and screwed DJ Mustard. The real curve balls come from Spinz, who hangs spectral, squelching synths over “Lie to Me” and fixes a moody electric guitar riff reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” to booming drums for album closer “Fly Shit Only.”
EVOL is the mark of an artist who’s hit a comfortable stride in his songwriting and can count on backup from the greatest, weirdest sculptors of sounds his city has to offer. The run Future continues to enjoy is nothing short of historic; it’s possible we’ll come to speak about his 2014-2016 reign with the same reverence we use for Lil Wayne and 50 Cent’s banner 2000s mixtape streaks. EVOL doesn’t break any rules or set many new ones, but as the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of wonders Future and his team wield in their creation of druggy, downcast afterparty dispatches, it is a joy. Pilling is their business, and business is good.