Boots has an undeniable ear for melodies and a deft production touch, but he’s still finding his footing as a solo act. AQUΛRIA has its share of high points, but there are also plenty of moments where you’re left wondering what would have happened if he’d turned these soundscapes over to more established artists.
Known for his work with Beyoncé, FKA Twigs and Run The Jewels, Boots has made himself en vogue behind the boards thanks to his ability to create tense, genre-blending instrumentals. Much of AQUΛRIA follows that format, albeit with less polish and an overall brasher sensibility.
When he’s firing on all cylinders, Boots is capable of making fascinatingly aggressive, off-kilter pop music replete with earworm hooks. “I Run Roulette” is a perfect example, as the song merges trip-hop drums and screeching distorted guitars into a hard-driving, infectious hit.
The title track is similarly resonant, beginning with a hypnotic clap line that shape shifts constantly over its five-minute runtime. It is maybe Boots’ most impressive effort as a producer on AQUΛRIA, and features some gorgeous vocal runs from Angel Deradoorian.
Those tracks have such foolproof melodies and structure that Boots’ abstract, oft bizarre lyrics are easy to ignore, but unfortunately that isn’t the case for all of AQUΛRIA. He isn’t a stellar singer, and frequently relies on his even more suspect rapping ability to create some sonic variety.
Tracks like “C.U.R.E.” and opener “Brooklyn Gamma” are built as showcases for Boots’ MC skills, but while he has a decent cadence, he sleepwalks through verses in a monotone fog. This works for some rappers like Jeremiah Jae or Earl Sweatshirt, but with Boots it exposes the lack of coherency in his lyrics.
“It ain’t as good as it gets / If you’ve got holes all over your chest / My best day’s your worst day, worst day’s my best phrase / That’s just what I get,” he spits inexplicably on the opening bars of “Brooklyn Gamma.”
AQUΛRIA is an interesting, risky record, but too often it confirms the notion that Boots’ development in the booth lags behind his touch on the mixing console.