An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

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Part 1 is here

Nas is indisputably one of the greatest MCs to ever grace the mic, as hip hop as rappers go. From what is widely considered one of, if not the best rap album ever, the gritty, streetwise Illmatic, up to the grown-man, nuanced, elegant hip hop on Life is Good, his discography is a play-by-play of the evolution of the genre through the eyes of one of its finest.

When he declared, then, that his beloved form of expression was “dead” halfway through his career on Hip Hop is Dead, then, the outburst of conversation was understandable. Fast forward 10 years, and Nas declares himself a proper fan of Future, the divisive rapper scores of hip hop heads declared as antithetical to “real hip hop.” He’d go on to explain his history with the genre on the watershed DJ Khaled track, Hip Hop with Scarface.

This dichotomy might seem contradictory to some, but to me, it’s where the spectacularly complex appeal of hip hop lay. There was a voice for every listener, and a listener for every voice. I was able to thus appreciate music across eras and stylistic evolution, and I grew to connect the dots linking a range of rappers.

I heard reflections of Tupac in Kendrick, Nas in J. Cole, Common in Kanye. But I also witnessed artists who’d carve out their own distinct places in hip-hop – Future, Mac Miller, Vince Staples, Childish Gambino, Young Thug and Chance the Rapper. The diversity of thought and sound in each of these musicians is perhaps lost on those ignorant to the genre’s nuances, but I had found a genre with an album for every mood, an artist for every day.

The street tales of Nas and Jay-Z drew me in with their vividness, with evocative descriptions of neighborhoods and lives completely foreign to me. Southern rappers such as T.I. offered another perspective towards the life of someone often, by their own admission, caught on the wrong side of the law. At times, it almost felt voyeuristic, but I was always educating myself about their circumstances – ghettoization, Reaganomics, racist power structures and police brutality. They led me to discover parallels between racial prejudice in America and casteist and communal politics in India.

It might be surprising to many, I attribute a significant base of my sociopolitcal awareness to trying to understand the contexts of the music I was listening to and its reflections in the contexts I was more familiar with. They were often revelatory, and as I dug deeper, I explored powerful voices such as The Roots, Black Star, Pharaohe Monch, and Killer Mike, who furthered my drive to understand the things they rapped about with such incisiveness.

But I was still a teenager – I had very adolescent emotions, and music was my go-to outlet for solace, sometimes for answers. Fortunately, by the time I was exposed to it, hip hop had begun embracing its sensitive side, thanks to Kid Cudi, Kanye, and yes, sometimes even Drake. Whether they be angst, heartbreak, or even anxiety and depression, I found a straightforwardness towards them in hip-hop that many other genres sidestepped.

Mac Miller’s Macadelic, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, and Faces were some of my favourite albums from that time because of the unabashedly unsure, and complicated way Mac rapped about the addictions, insecurities and weirdness he was plagued by. I couldn’t relate to his exact situations, but they felt similar; genuine.

Cudi and Childish Gambino helped me through my bitter lonely teen phase with their own candid confessions of the same feelings – they might’ve often come off as immature, but to someone who desperately needed a sense of belonging in that time, they were kindred spirits.

So I grew; learning, failing, learning some more, all the while accruing a select, and colourful cross-section of rappers whose music I loved and always looked out for. As I shed my inhibitions and childish notions of ‘real’ hip hop, I also began to develop a taste for music that was just fun – bangers. Chance, Rick Ross, Future, and Young Thug quickly filled those gaps, and I found I had times where I just wanted to turn up. Depriving myself of these joys of the genre felt increasingly pointless.

Through all of this, I also grew to be acutely aware of the language employed in hip-hop. I learnt only on of the painful history and powerful reclamation of the n-word; it reminds me of the Dalit identity in India. Colloquialisms littered throughout hip-hop were finding its way into pop culture, and I tried to be consciously aware of their usage. It helped me understand just how much White America owed to the section of the population it had oppressed for so long, and discover how language, often used as a tool of the elitist classes, could be subverted. It contributed immensely to my love affair with writing too, and my cherished belief that words were only as good as the messages they conveyed.

It’s now been several years since I first started listening to hip-hop, and I’m as fascinated and enamored by it as I ever was. Listening to a song like 1 Train fills me with an inexplicable joy – pure lyrical acrobatics over an amazing beat, by a range of rappers each with their own distinctive styles. It’s why I listen to Joey Bada$$, and I listen to Lil Uzi Vert. I listen to Vince Staples, and I listen to A$AP Rocky. I listen to Big Boi, and I listen to Run the Jewels. I listen to Black Milk, and I listen to Big Sean. I love all of their music. I have never had to choose, and I never intend to.

I do intend to keep learning about hip-hop, and the environment it draws upon, and playing YG’s Fuck Donald Trump as loudly as I canHip-hop is now the most popular genre of music in the USA, and for this young adult across the world in India, its gospel is one I will never stop preaching.

 

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An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 1

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Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 masterpiece good kid, m.A,A.d city was, by any measure, one of the best albums to come out in years. Kendrick is one of the finest MCs to ever grace the mic, and he’s aided by production that complements his lyrical detailing stunningly well. It’s a supremely engaging work of music. But most importantly, it’s a meticulously told tale of Compton, California. It’s a lens into the life of a community and a people away from mainstream discourse, where the primary voices are those of the talents that emerge from within the community.

It seems that GKMC provided an image that most in the USA were themselves under-educated on. To a middle class high-schooler from India, then, it was a fascinating, complex, almost frighteningly voyeuristic insight into a life thousands of kilometers away from me.  But somehow, the music spoke to me. It intrigued me. It made me want to delve into the intricacies of the lives of the people – such as Kendrick – who lived these lives every day. It goaded me into educating myself on issues of race, class, crime and culture that have always been a source of keen interest for me. The album, to me, wasn’t just music. It was a focal point in understanding a culture to which I was an outsider. And that, has been a compelling reason why I’m drawn to hip-hop, and why it’s been so important to me.

I began my dive into hip-hop, like most Indian teenagers, with Eminem. I’d heard a few stray tracks over the years, thanks to friends discretely passing on USB drives containing his biggest songs. They were laden with the kind of expletives that would get us disowned by our parents – and that was part of the thrill. Every time Em cussed (which was a lot) felt like an act of rebellion against our overly-strict upbringing. And it sounded good.

Most of my initial exposure to hip hop was thus limited to being an entertaining and edgy form of music. I remained mostly ignorant of the social and cultural elements of the genre. This began to change, however, as I dug into the discography of the rapper who’d go on to become one of my favourite musicians – Kanye West. I enjoyed his music, but a few songs piqued my curiosity, Jesus Walks being among the first. As someone who was raised Christian, the intersection of faith and race identity was wholly a novel idea, and one that set me on two paths – one, of understanding the role religion played in society and individual lives, and two, how hip hop went beyond music. I picked up on the themes of racial and social injustice and inequality littered throughout Kanye’s work. It was, to put it mildly, a revelation.

At this point, I was intent on understanding the social background from which hip hop came, and the vocabulary of a genre that depended on cultural contexts hugely different from my own. The credit for this next step lies largely with the community at Genius – which when I was active, was still known as Rap Genius. The annotations, both the ones I read and the ones I wrote and edited myself, helped me dissect and understand the language I was listening to. Appropriately, the first song I read the annotations for was a Roots song. I began to understand the particular slang, the pop culture references and the weight of so many of the words. Kanye continued to be the focal point of most of my interest – from the intersection of Black America and personal journeys on The College Dropout and Late Registration (All Falls Down, Diamonds From Sierra Leone), to the grandiose superstardom of Graduation (Can’t Tell Me Nothing)the heartbreak of 808s… (Heartless) and the masterpiece of human emotion that was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Runaway). 

Thanks to Ye’s reputation as an iconoclast who also shaped mainstream music’s contemporary direction with every release, I was able to understand the many facets of the environment Kanye made music in. Through him, I was introduced to the music of several other rappers, many of whom went on to become favourites, including Jay Z (yes), Pusha T and Common. But what I also discovered, was that I was missing out on two distinct phases of hip-hop: one, its gritty past, and its hyper-evolving present and future.

I was prepared to undertake a deep dive into hip-hop. Fortunately, I had several guides who would come to symbolize and expand on what I loved about it.

Part 2 is here 

 

 

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 1

Kesha Lets all her Colours Fly on ‘Rainbow’

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You really want to root for Kesha.

That’s not a sentence you might’ve commonly heard in 2010-2012, when the princess of party dance pop ruled the charts. With tracks like Tik Tok, Take it Off and Die Young, Kesha was the guilty pleasure many of us who were coming of musical age back then would indulge in.

Then just as suddenly as she burst onto the scene, she disappeared. You could be forgiven for not really noticing – pop stars tend to come and go. But when she did resurface, it was not in a way most would’ve expected.

Kesha’s ordeal with Dr. Luke is well-documented, and a terrible one to play out in the public eye. It displayed the deep-rooted culture of victim blaming and sex-shaming that women across the world face, even a famous musician. The misogyny was rampant, and the toll it took on Kesha was plain to see. The  unfortunate legal outcome seemed like quite the blow.

 

As it turned out, however, there were rays of sunshine – to form a rainbow. Kesha had a new force of fans rallying behind her, from people who once knew her music to Lady Gaga. Thousands of people stood with Kesha, and it’s clear she drew strength from that. The singer has always been a vocal feminist, and her circumstances have drawn out the warrior in her with gusto. This side of Kesha has come out in full force with her first album since the storm, the appropriately-titled Rainbow.

The singles from the album firmly set the tone – this is not the electro pop we’re used to from Ke$ha, but the eclectic music of Kesha. The lyrics have gotten more singer-songwriter-like, the music draws from a range of influences, from rock to country to glossy contemporary pop. Perhaps most tellingly, however, Kesha uses her natural voice throughout the album sans AutoTune, and her range is truly impressive. Whether it be the bluesy rock bellows of Woman, the soaring vocals on ballads such as Praying and Finding You, the country twinge on Bastards, or the utterly confident popstar on Hymn and the title track, she’s got a lot more confidence in her vocal abilities that shows.

The freewheeling, rawer tracks are more garage rock than pop, with pithy declarations of power (“I’m a motherfucking woman” on the anthemic Woman)  and free-spiritedness (“Shake that ass, don’t care if they talk about it / Fuck all that, haters, just forget about ’em” from Let ‘Em Talk). She seems intent on reiterating that through all the ups and downs, Kesha is still about having fun – Boots and Hunt You Down have some hilarious lines and are immensely danceable without the EDM wall-of-sound; these songs are often more apt for a square dance. In that vein, Rainbow also reclaims Kesha’s Tennessee country girl heritage on several songs, from opener Bastards to Old Frames(Can’t Hold a Candle to You), which features the Queen of Country, Dolly Parton herself.

The middle section is where Kesha deals with her chaotic recent past through a number of pop stunners and epic ballads. Hymn has one of her best hooks, floating on minimal production that lends a certain sophistication to the song. It’s a thematic centerpiece too, boldly positioning herself as the voice that sings the “hymn for the hymnless.” This purpose drives her most of the album, gracefully casting aside the man who caused her so many troubles, Dr. Luke on Praying (delivering an incredible vocal performance along the way), refusing to hold on to the past on Learn to Let Go, and reconciling her life so far with her future on Rainbow. 

The missteps on Rainbow are, quite honestly, inconsequential in the grander scheme of the album. There are lyrical and musical cliches Kesha slips into on occasion, especially on the country songs, but she sings them with such an earnestness that it’s hard not to sing along anyway.

In the end then, when Kesha tells you she’s “falling right back in love with being alive” and tells you to “put those colors on” and “paint the world” with her, you can’t help but silently promise her you will, and feel a shared sense of purpose – towards love, equality and a passion for life that we all could desperately use.

When the album winds down, you don’t just want to root for her as a survivor – but as a musical artist who’s found her step, and is rising above. And that is the triumph of Rainbow.

 

Kesha Lets all her Colours Fly on ‘Rainbow’

Goodbye, Chester Bennington

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Listening to Breaking the Habit for the first time as an 11-year old is one of my most vivid, and important musical memories. Playing through earphones I’d borrowed from my dad, off a cheap MP3 player, Chester Bennington’s impassioned voice stunned me. The raw emotion, sung with his melodic clarity, shattered every notion I’d had till then of what music could be.  I was still young, and couldn’t wholly grasp the power Chester’s words held. But something changed in me – with his soaring voice, he cracked the shell holding in amorphous emotions. What poured forth came to define me, and the music I came to invest in.

Reading about Chester’s death – more specifically, his suicide – now, about 10 years after that first tryst will go on to become another of my defining musical memories. Something cracked in me again – but this time, what poured forth, was unbridled pain that came in waves. Cracked might not be the right word – a part of me broke. For a while, I refused to believe it was real. I looked for some hope that this was some fucked-up hoax. But it wasn’t. It was real. He was gone. The myriad emotions that Chester had helped me deal with, had defeated the man. The voice that made me believe I was not alone in my insecurities, my sorrows, my lowest points, had felt alone himself.

Chester’s searing vocals has soundtracked some of my darkest days. In the depths of my depression, I spent countless nights curled up in bed, his music giving me reason to believe there were others as lost as me, and I found some comfort in shared loneliness. Chester always found a way to soothe my insecurities when he crooned, and then unleash a cathartic wave of frustration and rage when he screamed, his voice shattering the maddening mix of pity and annoyance that I was often met with.  His incredible music had helped the darkness feel less oppressive.

I remember how real Somewhere I Belong felt. I remember One Step Closer being a vent for my rage. I remember Numb giving form to my helplessness. I remember My December echoing my pain. I remember No More Sorrow being the screams in my mind. I remember Shadow of the Day being my antidote.  Meteora was the first CD I bought, and it was during this time.

Over the years, Linkin Park became a band I had a distant relationship with. I loved a lot of their music, but I also…didn’t. Chester lingered on, his voice would always be carved into my psyche, but it seemed he was in my past, and I accepted it. But now that he’s no more, it hits me with an unbearable weight that the man who often kept me alive would have to be consigned to my memories, whether I liked it or not, whether I wanted to accept it or not. I didn’t even fucking listen to One More Light in its entirety, and now it feels like I did not even give Chester’s last cry a chance. I feel immeasurably guilty. I will never hear him sing anew. And I cannot stop the tears from flowing.

I wish there was some way I could repay him. I wish there was, as so many others have put it, some way I could’ve saved him the way he’d saved me so many times. I wish I could tell him how much he meant to me, and so many like me. I wish I could return the hope he’d given me. But there’s nothing I can do now to have him back.

The words in Leave Out All The Rest now ring heavier than they ever have:

When my time comes
Forget the wrong that I’ve done
Help me leave behind some
Reasons to be missed
And don’t resent me
And when you’re feeling empty
Keep me in your memory
Leave out all the rest

I can only honour Chester’s memory. The lives he touched. The music that will live on.He deserved a lot more love when he was alive, love that I wish I could give him now. I will have to live with that, even if he couldn’t.

In his final whispers into the world, Chester sang, “Who cares if one more light goes out? / Well I do.” And I do. Your light will never go out, Chester, I promise.

Thank you, and I’m sorry.

Goodbye, Chester Bennington.

 

Goodbye, Chester Bennington

4:44 by Jay-Z

The hyphen in Jay-Z’s name might be back, but 4:44 isn’t really Jay-Z. For possibly the first time in his career, it’s an album by Shawn Carter, the multimillionaire businessman, the African-American man, the family man. In shedding the larger-than-life image of the rapper in the very first track, aptly titled Kill Jay-Z, he owns up to his past failings and in a lyric unprecedented for a rapper of his mythology, implores himself to be emotionally vulnerable (“Cry Jay Z, we know the pain is real/ But you can’t heal what you never reveal”).

Throughout the album, this sense of being brutally honest reveals a side of the man, the myth, the legend that few would expect the notoriously insular Hov to see, 13 albums into his epic career. On Smile, he acknowledges his mother’s homosexuality in a disarmingly sensitive moment – he doesn’t linger on it, simply expressing his support and admiration. Coming from a notoriously homophobic genre, it’s a powerful statement by one of the most influential voices in the community. On the title track, and the crux of the album, it’s clear that Shawn’s marriage with Beyoncé, his infidelity and his relationship with his children weigh heavily on his mind. He’s realized that his rap superstar lifestyle and image is untenable if it adversely affects his personal life.

The parallel track on 4:44 to Jay-Z’s maturing as an individual is his commitment to being rap’s elder statesman. Far more than on his last album, the frustratingly myopic Magna Carta Holy Grail, he confidently delivers sermons on his rags-to-riches story, wealth accumulation and distribution, and generational wealth in the context of being a Black man in America. Jay’s brags aren’t merely exhibitionist – they are repackaged as lessons to financial success, and rewards to be reaped. The Story of O.J. is a treatise on Black capitalism, delivered succinctly in a manner only Jay can (“I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99”). Family Feud and Legacy reiterate the need for uniting under the umbrella of Black excellence, and pushing the people forward on their own terms. Even as an outsider to the culture, it’s inspirational in its aim of inclusiveness and hardened determination.

With everything that’s going on in 4:44, it could’ve easily been a rather boring, draggy album. But it seems being Shawn Carter has broken the rapper’s chains (shit, the wordplay’s rubbing off). Jay weaves vivid tales with storytelling ability we haven’t heard since American Gangster using some of his best flows – the kind that gave him his legendary status – over painstakingly tailored production, all of which comes courtesy of No I.D. Clearly, Jay has been incredibly invested in this project, explicitly picking out and building songs around specific samples he grew up with. Jay’s brevity is well-documented, but applying it to such personal stories ensures we’re hooked on every word, and they hit with their full weight. When he turns up the aggression, like on Bam and Marcy Me, it’s with the cool head of a man who knows his power, and his confidence is evident in the many instantly-quotable one-liners he drops (“Before we had A&R’s, we had AR’s too”), his pop culture references on point (“Put that drum in your ear, don’t get Srem’d/I’ll Bobby Shmurda anybody you heard of”).

4:44 is the 13th studio album of a rapper with nothing left to prove – so he proves himself as a musician/businessman, a successful Black man with a complicated personal life. He sounds rejuvenated both as Jay – Z and Shawn Carter, and hence delivers one of the finest albums of his career. It’s an impeccably crafted, lucid elegy that will go down as proof a 47-year old rapper doesn’t need to rely on his stereotypical image to make waves in the culture.

4:44 by Jay-Z

Quick Thoughts – Imagine Dragons, Calvin Harris and Young Thug

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#1. Evolve by Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons are at the forefront of the wave of pop/electronic rock bands that can make some great anthems and fill up concerts with their sing-alongs, but cannot for the life of them, put together a great album. Every track on the mercifully short Evolve is driven by stadium-sized drums and vocals, and poppy synths that are earworms at best, and ear-gratingly bad at worst.

Dan Reynolds is a talented vocalist, and puts up an earnest performance throughout. He can lift songs to incredibly satisfying highs when done right, such as on the epic Believer, Whatever it Takes, (where Dan employs a hip-hop cadence on the verses) and Rise Up. Whether these songs are good is debatable, but they accomplish what they set out to do – fill your headphones with an overwhelming passion, that stirs something in you, like it or not.

Where Dan, and Imagine Dragons fails, however, are when they veer into electropop territory. Whatever It Takes sounds straight out of the OneRepublic discography, but worse. I’ll Make It Upto You and album closer Dancing In The Dark are atrocious pop songs that sound like Chainsmoker ripoffs (yes, that bad) and criminally misuses Dan’s vocals.

The most interesting track on Evolve is Yesterday. The way the percussion and keys are arranged is quite different from the other tracks, and the vocals sound much rawer and more emotive. And that monster of a chorus is unabashedly optimistic – it’s just so much fun; the sort of fun too much of the album is missing.

Evolve has some truly enjoyable songs that would make for great singles – some already have – but that’s the niche in which it seems Imagine Dragons will forever be stuck in. Quite simply, this album is not greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a shame, really. I thought I’d be true believer at the end of this LP.

#2. Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 by Calvin Harris

Listening to Slide, the first single off Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, was quite the surprise – this was not the kind of massive EDM/pop club track that Calvin Harris typically churns out. It’s a warm, funky track, the Frank Ocean – Migos collaboration worked splendidly, and the result was the sort of summery vibe that his past superhit, Summer couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be. As the singles kept coming, it was clear that the superstar DJ had a sonic shift in mind. Thankfully, it’s a sound that he seems to know to do well.

Schoolboy Q’s opening line on Cash Out ( party like it’s 1980″) reiterates the direction of the album, throwing back to the post-disco and funk elements of the late 70s and 80s. There’s some thick basslines inspired by the era of G-funk , such as on Holiday, with one of the OGs of the sound, Snoop Dogg. John Legend and Takeoff may not be the first collaborative choices for a song like this, but they sound perfectly at home.

This curation of the right features is Calvin Harris’ greatest asset on Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Heatstroke has three vocalists with wildly different styles, from Young Thug’s sing-rapping, Ariana Grande’s pop stylings and Pharrell’s falsetto, but it all comes together surprisingly well. I’d never have expected Travis Scott to indulge the bounce of Prayers Up. There are missteps, such as the awful Skrt on Me with an autotuned-to-hell Nicki Minaj, and Pharrell’s vocals on Feels are a questionable inclusion.

What’s truly surprising about this album, is that despite its star power, there are no mechanically constructed surefire hits. It sounds fairly organic, and one of the best tracks on the album, Hard to Love, has the relatively-obscure Jessie Reyez delivering some memorable, earnest pop over subdued guitar licks. The song has the sort of lowkey appeal to it that is wholly unexpected of a song with Calvin Harris on the boards. With just 10 tracks on here, the album doesn’t run the danger of getting repetitive. It makes for a worthwhile album listen, but nearly every track on here would still work as a single.
Be prepared for Calvin Harris to once again dominate the airwaves for the next couple of months.

#3. Beautiful Thugger Girls (EBBTG) by Young Thug

Young Thug is a musical anomaly – boxing him into a sound or genre is quite simplistic, with his grasp on melody, incredibly versatile vocal ability and ear for production. But how much of an auteur can Thug truly be with his generic lyrical themes? It’s an odd dichotomy that shows once again on Beautiful Thugger Girls. 

This is Thug’s “singing album,” and it shows. He might not be the most technically proficient vocalist, but whether it be his deep serenading or high-pitched falsetto/squeals, it all sounds so good. There’s some strangely tender acoustics throughout, picking up elements from pop, RnB and even some country (like when he yeehaw’s on album opener Family Don’t Matter or the acoustic-guitar-driven You Said).

Listening in a little deeper, however, takes away some of the sheen of the music. There are some hilarious punchlines, and some unusually emotional one-liners (“I’m so busy it’s making me feel like I’m in and out my kids’ lives off Daddy’s Birthday), and the featured artists are used sparingly, and perfectly. But there’s only so many interesting ways to describe one’s sexual exploits, and Thugga seems to be circling the same ideas.

Beautiful Thugger Girls isn’t the sonic leap forward for Young Thug that JEFFEREY was, but it’s a solid LP that gives us more of the eccentric, and immensely fun music that Thug is so good at making. It might come off as superficial in places, but it’s important to understand that listening to Thug is about enjoying the music without thinking about it too much. And as unexpected as it is for me to say it, I’m a fan.

 

 

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Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes

Describing music with shimmering instrumentation and rich vocals as ‘beautiful’ is easy. But rare is music that sounds beautiful, as much as it feels beautiful – music that captures the many intricacies of our world and emotions in its own flourishes. This music is not superficially pleasant – often, it might deal with powerful themes that ordinary men and women are left to grapple with. But the result is immensely evocative, vivid in its detailing.

Musicians that can create truly beautiful music, then, are to be treasured; Fleet Foxes is among them, and Crack-Up is a stunning work of music, and art. Robin Pecknold is a wonder – his esoteric, poetic lyrics are incredible in their ability to defy the rigidity of time and place. His vocals resonate through every emotion he can capture. The band’s music takes instruments that so many others have used, and conjures new soundscapes with them; their sound is gorgeous and soaring, and the arrangements immaculately conceived.

Album opener I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar is a sprawling song that unravels in the manner of an internal monologue, tugging between doubt and faith, shifting between hushed-up whispers and exuberant proclamations. Third of May / Ōdaigahara, the lead single and one of the band’s best songs, is similarly a journey all in itself, contemplating nearly every nuance of relationships through grand swells and falls of music.

Kept Woman is ethereal, the kind of song that leaves you with a lump in your throat for no discernible reason other than being struck by its beauty. Fool’s Errand plays like a melancholy anthem, with driving percussion but strings that make each step forward feel a tad too heavy – “It was a fool’s errand/Waiting for a sign/But I can’t leave until the sign comes to mind,” Pecknold rues.

True to its name, album closer Crack-Up acts as a microcosm of the album – a jigsaw puzzle of a song that would sound disjointed in the hands of lesser bands. Much like the introductory track, it’s a meditation on the chaos of our self reflected in the song’s structure. According to Pecknold himself, “the beginning presents a question that is briefly solved and then there’s this sort of ecstatic burst of energy at the end like enlightenment or something and then it all kind of cracks up but in this really ecstatic way and then it kind of closes into closeness.” It might seem like a wonky explanation coming from the man who penned such evocative lyrics, but that’s the beauty of the music he helped create.

Crack-Up reveals a depth of humanness in our lives that might seem mundane if described any other way. Each track on here is worthy of praise in its own way, tied by the sentiments that bind us all. Fleet Foxes are the tools to coax these sentiments out of us – and for that, I am eternally grateful.

 

Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes