Review: 070 Shake, ‘Modus Vivendi’

070 Shake reaches finality on her ethereal debut, prematurely beginning the conversations for the year’s (and decade’s) greatest bodies of work.

Star power comes far and few organically, particularly when labels are directly manufacturing pop artists. Danielle Balbuena, better known as 070 Shake, was poised for stardom years ago. Before the Kanye West collaborations, 070 Shake caught waves online through the 070 rap collective, namely through tracks such as “Freestyle”, “Thru the Speakers” and “Honey”. Freshly signed to GOOD Music, she stole the spotlight on Kanye West’s Ye, casually brandishing her one-of-a-kind vocals across further Wyoming releases. Several singles and an EP later, 070 Shake is ready to formally introduce herself.

On Modus Vivendi, 070 Shake pours her lovesick soul track-by-track to fashion a blissful utopia of music inspired by the delicacy of romance and emotion.

Through brilliant songwriting and gorgeous production, Modus Vivendi captures human complications and learning how to accept these situations. For Shake it clearly runs deeper than music, which is what makes the songs seem so genuine. Intro track “Don’t Break the Silence” is a real tone-setter through its blissful synths and projecting vocals by 070 Shake, transitioning smoothly into “Come Around”. The synths go from blissful to abrasive, with the song’s motif serving as a call of desperation (“Come around with your love, oh, baby, I’m in need”). Little is said but much is transmitted within the minute-and-a-half.

From early on in the record, 070 Shake injects a necessary vim of artistry into hip hop scope, something her fellow female contemporaries are far from achieving. It is refreshing to hear Shake embark on a silky fusion of pop, soul, hip hop, electronic and even emo to make up the sound of Modus Vivendi. Credit must go to the production team; Dave Hamelin, Sean Solymar, Mike Dean and multiple others fuse genres for the futuristic yet organic production style of the album. Dean’s signature synths are in play all over the record (“Come Around”, “Daydreamin”) but as are the luscious violin segments that end off the album’s best songs (“Terminal B”, “The Pines”).

Shake’s boyish voice is what separates her from every emerging hip hop vocalist. She can rap when she chooses to, like on the turbulent “Daydreamin”, but prefers to sing through Auto-Tune to serve as an accessory to her uniquely addictive harmonies. This characteristic shines the most on the pop-leaning tracks. Shake’s addictive hook on “Guilty Conscience” is elevated by the shimmering production, while the airy refrain of “Under the Moon” establishes 070 Shake as a pop star in the making. Her singing isn’t perfect, but that is what allows the emotion to pour through.

Lyrically, Modus Vivendi explores themes of heartbreak, uncertainty and acceptance of situations (the album’s title translates to “way of life“). Shake’s lines straddle the lines of poetry, such as on “Divorce” where she states: “Trade this ring for peace inside / In plain sight, wavin’ my arms, Heaven’s alright / Bones and soil fertilize”. On “Microdosing”, she uses a metaphor of taking LSD to stress her hesitation to fully commit herself to another person (“Oh, oh, I just want a little”). The songwriting makes each track seem like scattered pieces to one love story, capturing both the highs (“Rocketship”) and the lows.

The lows are captured perfectly on the album’s best song, “Terminal B”. Shake conveys a slipping soul-tie where there is a reluctance on Shake’s part to let go. Its lyrics scream desperation, grieving in a way where the love interest is practically dead and gone (“And then I start to wonder / Why can’t I feel it with another?”). The production begins minimal but continues to escalate at each refrain, heightening the emotion minute by minute. Shake’s haunting background vocals lock jaws with the airy production, creating the ethereal sound that remains consistent throughout the whole record.

The most attractive quality about Modus Vivendi is the way it is able to create a blissful atmosphere. From the production down to the vocals and songwriting, every piece is meticulous, all achieved while able to carry the entire album by herself. 070 Shake’s debut is one to be remembered not just for 2020 but the decade to come.

Rating: 10 / 10

Best tracks: “Terminal B”, “Morrow”, “Come Around”, “Divorce”, “Under the Moon”, “Guilty Conscience”, “Microdosing”, “Daydreamin”