Favourite Albums of 2017 – #15 to #11

#15. The Meetings of the Waters, Fionn Regan

I was introduced to Fionn Regan’s exquisite music through last year’s 22, A Million, by another purveyor of folk beauty, Bon Iver. It seems that Fionn has taken on some inspiration from being sampled on the electronic chaos of that album, as he expands some his gorgeous acoustic melodies with expansive maximalism and skittering flourishes on A Meeting with the Waters. The result is Fionn’s most musically exciting work (complemented by perfect mixes), which nevertheless retains his stunning, poetic lyricism. With evocative imagery like “Ferns they will bend/and the moon it will send/its light down your collar/your bones they will mend/I know they will,” he creates music that feels apt for the quiet nights that you need to renew your sense of life. Fionn Regan has been described as a successor to the folk legacies of Bob Dylan and his ilk – with this record, he reminds us he is truly worthy.

Listen to: The Meeting of the Waters, Babushka-Yai Ya

#14. Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes

There was perhaps no album more ethereally beautiful this year than Crack-Up. This should come as no surprise, given Fleet Foxes have produced some of the best indie folk-pop ever made – impeccable melodies and painstakingly arranged instrumentation are their bread-and-butter. This is elevated to more drawn-out, undulating songs on this record, without ever losing a sense of purpose etched into their tunes. Frontman Robin Pecknold’s abstract lyricism creates the sort of poetry that can both move and provoke. It’s an album that is well worth its 6-year wait – it feels less like a moment in music, than an engulfing tide. The only downside is that one doesn’t know how long we’d have to wait for another such masterpiece.

Listen to:  Third of May / Ōdaigahara, Fool’s Errand

#13. american dream, LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem came back, after 6 years. But perhaps more importantly, LCD’s James Murphy came back. He came back with the shimmering melancholy dance rock that he pioneered, but perhaps more importantly, he came back with the nudge-and-wink earnestness that makes his best music as compelling as it is. American Dream is further vaulted into the musical imagination of 2017 with its typically ambitious, epic tracklist that ruminates on everything from failed relationships to the police state. This sounds like LCD Soundsystem at its finest, but not quite the LCD that had a farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. They acknowledge that they’re back, and are keen to tie up loose ends, so to speak. The album closer Black Screen pulses along like a staccato heartbeat – but LCD Soundsystem has already, neatly reinserted themselves into our cultural conscious. Thank the gods for it.

Listen to: oh baby, call the police

#12. Process, Sampha

‘Visceral’ isn’t a word that often comes to mind when describing R&B, but there doesn’t seem to be a more apt way to describe Sampha’s uniquely devastating take on the genre. Fear, anxiety and loneliness are described in images of blood, death, melting plastic and solitary days spent at the piano through his intensely emotive vocals. The sparse production leaves no cover for Sampha to hide behind – he lays his soul bare on every song, and leaves the listener reeling, yet oddly craving more. Process is an album shaped by the insecurities of the man making the music, but the music itself is a mature, refined body of work that cements Sampha as a voice to remember through the ages.

Listen to: Plastic 100°C [the studio version is worth searching for], (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano

#11. SATURATION I-III, BROCKHAMPTON

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Cheating a little by having 3 albums at a single spot, but there’s no way around it – each of BROCKHAMPTON’s releases this year are essential listening. The LA-based collective has the most incredible musical synergy, with its various members – each of them a creative force in their own right – playing off each other effortlessly, and contributing to tracks that play to their strengths. These guys are making hardcore hip-hop with the sort of wonderful weirdness that reminds one of Odd Future – and I daresay they work better together than OFWGKTA. Each of the albums in the trilogy brings its own energy, with SATURATION I, being the most aggressively confident, while the later instalments experiment a fair bit with their sounds. The music never gets stale, nor do the left-field moments feel forced. These are records made by a diverse, passionately creative web of young voices – if your ears don’t perk up on first listen, you might want to check them out.

Listen to: HEAT, SWEET, BLEACH

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #15 to #11

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #20 to #16

#20. American Teen, Khalid

Khalid is the breakout pop star of 2017. Capturing the millennial mood in a way few others in the mainstream have, Khalid effortlessly updates relics of romance and quarter life crises to the smartphone age. A large percentage of the songs live in a world shaped by the devices we hold in our hands – our source of joys, but a Pandora’s box just as often. Love and relationships are digitized, with their set of ups and downs. The top half of American Teen is an incredible run of pop anthems, while the second half ventures into upbeat R&B ballads – but the whole thing sounds like an album, an increasingly rare attribute.  Despite Khalid’s voice being the only one on the entire record, he holds his own better than some seasoned musicians, thanks to his earnest vocals and production that winks at classic R&B while consistently maintaining a richly modern sound. He comes of age through the run of the album, a self-assured debut that lays an exciting base for Khalid’s growth as a person, and artist.

Listen to: American Teen, Another Sad Love Song

#19. Rainbow, Kesha

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Kesha’s resurgence has been one of the greatest pop star transformations to witness in the last couple of years. A soaring, powerful record, Rainbow has an inspired Kesha shedding her Autotune-drenched party pop, instead placing her confident vocals front & center, her strife firmly behind her. She’s been vocally feminist in previous years, and that shows most evidently here. Her music here transforms the painful misogyny she’s faced over the years in the industry into boisterous, resilient pop music. She’s also retained her flamboyance, asserting that the Kesha we’re listening to now hasn’t lost the playful charm from when she first burst onto the scene. Rainbow thus has one of the most memorable pop stars of our time singing her heart out, and beautifully capturing ours in a way few others have.

Listen to: Woman, Praying

#18. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, 2 Chainz

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Yes, a 2 Chainz album is one of my favourites of the year. 2017 has been strange. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music isn’t just arguably Epps’ best album, it’s an all-round great album – Chainz exudes cool swagger throughout, deftly detailing the street life and the rap life through some of his sharpest punchlines. The production is as 2017 as it gets, mixing melodic trap with luxurious Southern textures. And it all sounds surprisingly grown- up, with a snarl that asserts that Chainz expects the respect accorded to a rap elderman. The tracklisting is meticulously executed, with a good mix of guests who complement Chainz perfectly. Pretty Girls… is an album that ought to make 2 Chainz disbelievers question their biases – he’s clearly spent time poring over the minutiae of this record, and presented a body of work that commands respect.

Listen to: 4AM, Sleep When U Die

#17. Everything Now, Arcade Fire

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Indie darlings Arcade Fire take their time making music – it lends a sweeping timelessness to their albums. It’s easy for an LP made as such to suffer from a sense of being lost, displaced in the context of the time it comes out. It’s a credit to Arcade Fire’s strength as a band, then, that they are able to create a world here that is untethered to a time, delivering their sound from a towering view, raised on pieces fit together over the years of their lives. The LP effuses neon retro in the layered, impeccably produced soundscape, and earnestly contemplates the world from the perspective of a generation that’s seen relentless change. Even when they tread preachy grounds, it’s hard to fault them for it – frontman Win Butler’s winsome singing makes you want to listen to what they have to say. As the record winds down, closing in a loop back to the opening track, it’s evident that Arcade Fire are aware that the idiosyncrasies of our lives are forever – but maybe, it’s not all bad.

Listen to: Everything_Now (continued) + Everything Now, Put Your Money on Me

#16. Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast

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Soft Sounds From Another Planet is an experience – the haze of sheogaze covers the album with cosmic dust, and Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner seems to construct her images through the same haze. Her lyricism ties the eccentricities of everyday life to abstract metaphors that land with the precision of a blade, such as on, if you’ll forgive the pun, The Body is a Blade. Michelle’s voice shines clear through the expanse, delivering a musical experience that feels like floating through a dream of vignettes from distant points in our lives drifting towards you. There’s a word in Japanese, komorebi, that transliterates to “sunshine filtering through leaves.” Zauner’s music often feels that way, the sign through our mess that there’s a way out.

Listen to: Machinist, Till Death 

 

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #20 to #16

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #25 to #21

Music in 2017 continues to soundtrack turbulent affairs in the world around us, as well as the spectrum of experiences and emotions in our own lives. It acts as our balm, a way to center our lives, a means to filter the haze of our environment through a tangible medium. What we choose to listen to, and that which buries itself in the depths of our craving psyche, possibly defines our times better than any other media that accompanies our days. In that vein, these are some of those albums that impressed themselves on the messy canvas of my year.

#25. War & Leisure, Miguel

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Miguel is perhaps the trust successor to the legacy of funk-infused, deeply sensual R&B that the legendary Prince pioneered. For Miguel, lust and love are the lenses through which he views the decidedly unerotic state of our world. The result is a rich, contemporary distillation of the aggression of war and the peace of leisure into the battlegrounds of our bodies and hearts. The man’s vocals find a sweet spot between seductive and soaring, an oasis of auditory pleasure in a dreary desert seemingly losing its grip on the joys of sexuality. Thankfully, Miguel makes it his mission on War & Leisure to remind us of that most raw desire of life.

Listen to: Sky Walker feat. Travis Scott, City of Angels

#24. Painted Ruins, Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear has making music for over 15 years, and they have assembled a veritable collection of musings on the seemingly pedestrian parts of our seemingly pedestrian lives. These thoughts are front and center on Painted Ruins, peeling back the mundane every-isms to reveal our bloodened lives. The words are painted on a canvas of familiar sounds, embellished by vibrant strokes that find the grooves in between the larger pieces, brightening the whole. This is an album that frontman Ed Droste has made a career of making – but every time, it works beautifully. “It’s chaos, but it works.”

Listen to: Morning SoundNeighbors

#23. No Dope on Sundays, CyHi the Prynce

This is the album I’ve waited on since CyHi the Prynce delivered one of the best verses on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on So Appalled. I’ve been waiting on this album since CyHi proved himself capable of crafting a cohesive, thoughtful body of work on Black Hystori Project. And he finally presents his debut album – and how. Over gritty, purposeful production, CyHi delivers street sermons that go deeper than the punchlines. Hell, even the punchlines often land a sharp thought unadulterated by forced cleverness. This is an MC who’s carefully honed to his craft to a level where he just needs to concentrate on laying his thoughts bare, and you’re listening. Whether he’s on the block or in the pews, with No Dope on Sundays, CyHi proves he isn’t going to be preaching to the choir.

Listen to: Dat Side feat. Kanye West, No Dope on Sundays feat. Pusha T

#22. All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, Joey Bada$$

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Honestly, I’ve typically been ambivalent about Joey Bada$$. 1999 was a grimey, lofi debut that nevertheless announced the arrival of a shockingly talented young rapper on the scene who harkened back to the glory days of New York hip-hop. But there’s only so much you can rap about rapping, trying to show off technical proficiency while skimping on musical quality, as was the case on later releases. But Joey has evolved into an artist on All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, creating a thought-provoking examination of USA 2017, in the voice of a young man with the soul of an old head. His lyrical acrobats are just as impressive as ever, often outshining his previous skills, but they’re employed towards greater goals – storytelling, introspection and analysis of a harsh world. This is a focused project with enjoyable meanderings, establishing Joey as not just an MC, but a musician. It’s no wonder Cole gifted him that stellar verse on Legendary – it’s a recognition of maturity from an elder rapper who’s been through this journey himself.

Listen to: Land of the Free, Rockabye Baby feat. ScHoolboy Q

#21. Take Me Apart, Kelela

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I love the resurgence and evolution that R&B has undergone in the past half-decade. Kelela personifies of a brand of Afrofuturism that is bold and alluring, an inescapable vortex of electrifying music. The blend of crystalline vocals and spacey production is assured send chills through your very soul – it’s a transcendental experience. If Gambino looked to the stars from our planet on Awaken, My Love, Kelela effortlessly travels to the cosmos and creates music infused with the stars themselves. Close your eyes, and let her silken voice elevate you. Take Me Apart is beyond music.

Listen to: Blue Light, LMK

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #25 to #21

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.

Continue reading “Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes”

Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes

RELAXER by alt-J

alt-J are a band of their time and place – they’ve got more than a bit of hipster aloofness, but their music sounds volatile enough to be earnest – their indie-gone-global catapult is reflected in their need to make music that is ‘true’ to themselves, yet appealing enough to their wide audience. With RELAXER, while they have created quite a bit of music that reflects that mosaic, along the way, they seem to have have lost the plot.

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RELAXER by alt-J

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. I Promise – Radiohead

Listening to an album for the first time and realizing it will end up being one of your favourites is an astonishingly wonderful feeling. That’s what I felt with OK Computer, and to relive that wave of emotions with I Promise, a track tellingly recorded between The Bends and OKC is something a fan usually only dreams of experiencing. With melancholy strummed guitars and marching percussion, Thom brings us back to the delicate and intimate promises of a relationship in danger of tearing apart. It’s an emotional, beautiful track. And it’s quintessentially Radiohead.

#2. Perfect Places – Lorde

Pounding kicks open the track, followed immediately by the existential lyric  “Every night I live and die;”  akin to Green Light, this is a complex song, juxtaposing a dance-y electronic instrumental with exploratory lyrics. Tackling the escapist party culture of alcohol and casual sex with a nuance that acknowledges both the desire for mindless euphoria, as well as the resultant ennui, Lorde once again captures the seemingly-contradictory dichotomy of our youth like few artists do.

#3. Run – Foo Fighters

Given how long the Foo Fighters have been around, there isn’t much in the way of surprises they can throw at you – but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some damn good music their own way. Run begins with Dave’s voice – melodic, yet tinged with a growl bubbling underneath – before launching into classic Foo; the aggressively infectious guitar riffs, driving drums and snarling vocals. It’s a mosh-pit worthy fireball of energy that belies the musicians’ age (which is also the theme of the music video). Thank the musical gods for it.

#4. Everything Now – Arcade Fire

The sunny,  melodic production – co-production credits go to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter – and the indie everyman vocals of Win Butler on the title track of Arcade Fire’s upcoming album, Everything Now, offer an essentially personal narrative in the overwhelmingly populist reality of the world, where the human struggle is lost to consumerist, majoritarian agendas. It’s a bleak message, and more relevant than ever.

#5. 4 AM ft. Travis Scott – 2 Chainz

2 Chainz has come a long way – his flow’s gotten better, there’s some substance to it, and he sounds more reassured and confident in his rapping. With a smooth banger of a beat and a trademark Travis hook adding to the concoction, this has the potential to be a hit. Either way, it’s a legitimately great track.

 

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

With the way music is consumed continuously changing, the way it is created changes too – artists have found new and exciting ways to destroy the limitations of genre, meld an array of sounds together and shape it into music that pushes boundaries, while still retaining the core of musicality. This charge into a genreless future is being led by a few stellar artists, each in a class of their own while defying categories.

Continue reading “5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless”

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless